Rice baseball went three for four on the weekend, sweeping Northern Illinois and splitting a pair of games with Kansas State.
THREE FOR THE ROAD
1. Rice baseball rotation is starting to settle in
The rotation has been somewhat of a work in progress over the first several weeks of the regular season. With Roel Garcia working his way back to 100 percent and the order in flux because of the winter storm, some growing pains were expected as the Owls readied for conference play in a few weeks.
As a whole, the starters compiled what has to be considered their best weekends of the season to date:
- Blake Brogdon earned a win, pitching into the seventh inning while allowing just two earned runs with six strikeouts.
- Roel Garcia went 5.2 innings against a potent Kansas State offense, allowing four earned runs, but keeping Rice in the game until he departed.
- Mitchell Holcomb threw 7.2 innings of scoreless ball, striking out for and allowing just five hits.
- Brandon Deskins struck out six in 5.0 innings, allowing four hits with one walk.
Altogether, the four arms in the weekend rotation pitched 24.2 innings and allowed six runs, a 2.19 ERA.
2. Gneiting not under the radar anymore
Entering the season, senior Bradley Gneiting was expected to be a part of the outfield rotation and platoon at the designated hitter spot. The same was said for a half dozen players who hoped to earn playing time on a regular basis. Not only has Gneiting had his fair share of at bats, he’s inked his name on the lineup card for the foreseeable future.
Gneiting reached base in all four games this weekend, going 5-for-15 with a home run and two RBI. He currently leads in batting average, OPS, hits and RBI. He’s one five players to start and finish every game this season.
3. One significant shutout
In the final season of the Wayne Graham era, Rice baseball won two games with shutouts. They beat Western Kentucky 4-0 and downed Old Dominion 9-0 that season. The next year, Matt Bragga’s first, Rice earned just one shutout win, a 4-0 victory over Southern Miss. They did not blank any of their opponents in 2020.
In total, Rice pitched one shutout victory in the first 75 games in Bragga’s tenure, a rate of 1.3 percent. So far in 2021, they tallied three such skunks in their first 14 games, 21.4 percent of their games. That doesn’t account for the two games in which they came up one run short.
More than the positive feelings of seeing a zero on the opponent’s box score, a string of shutouts points to a pitching staff capable of operating at a high level. Channeling that potential into consistent, dependable performances from a core of trustworthy options could make this team dangerous if and when the bats follow suit.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Rice 6 – Northern Illinois 3
Northern Illinois struck first with a run in the top of the third but the 1-0 lead didn’t last long. Guy Garibay delivered the equalizing home run in the bottom half of the inning. Then Rice exploded for four more runs in the fifth to take a commanding 5-1 lead. Four different Owls had an RBI hit in that inning.
Blake Brogdon and Reed Gallant proved to be a strong tandem on the mound. Gallant took over in the seventh, allowing two inherited runners to score, but finished the remainder of the game unscathed, giving Rice the win.
SATURDAY 1 | Kansas State 8 – Rice 3
Things were close in the second game for the Owls right until they weren’t. Roel Garcia kept the Kansas State bats at bay, allowing two runs through the first five innings. Unfortunately, the offense was only able to muster one run of support over that span.
When Garcia exited, Kansas State pounced. Already leading 4-1 at the time, the Wildcats tacked on four more runs over the final three innings. Rice finished 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position in the loss.
SATURDAY 2 | Rice 4 – Northern Illinois 1
Rice responded well in the second half of the Saturday double-header. Mitchell Holcomb delivered far and away his best performance as an Owl, going 7.2 innings without allowing a run. The strong start allowed the offense to gradually pull further and further away over the course of the game.
The Owls first took the lead on a bases-loaded walk in the second inning. They added two more runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. By the time Holcomb exited the game and Christian Cienfuegos extinguished any hopes of a late NIU rally in the eighth, Rice was in total command.
SUNDAY | Rice 1 – Kansas State 0
The bats were more subdued when Rice met Kansas State for the second time on the weekend. Once the rain dried up and the tarp was removed, Brandon Deskins and KState hurler Connor McCullough were lights out. Neither side scored against the other teams’ starters, leaving it to the bullpens to finish up the game.
Rice would prevail thanks to the bat of Braden Comeaux who drilled a liner at the foot of the Kansas State shortstop. The ball deflected just far enough for Ben Dukes to scamper home and break the tie. Dalton Wood converted the save.