Rice baseball ran out of time against Middle Tennessee, ending the weekend with an extra-inning tie and leaving Murfeesburro with a series loss.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball loses series 2-1-1
1. Rotation has potential, but depth remains an issue
There’s been a lot of encouraging outings from members of the weekend rotation this year, but syncing those positive days together amidst the four starters has seemed almost impossible. Rice had two starts this weekend fail to complete four innings. It’s probably not a coincidence the Owls failed to win either of those games (although they did salvage a tie).
Thanks to sturdy outings from Blake Brogdon and Mitchell Holcomb, the bullpen wasn’t overly taxed, but the Owls couldn’t cobble together enough arms to salvage the finale with five of six pitchers surrendering at least one run and two allowing three or more hits in a single inning. The bullpen has room to grow, but limiting their work to three or four innings a game is a must going forward.
2. Lineup card is settling in
With Rice baseball in the thick of conference play, the lineup seems to have reached a steady-state. The same four (Cade Edwards, Bradley Gneiting, Braden Comeaux, Guy Garibay) anchored the top spots of the lineup this weekend and it’s hard to see them moving any time soon. The order of the back end of the lineup changed, but the cast of characters has started to congeal there as welll.
Will Karp and Justin Long have solidified themselves as everyday players with Austin Bulman and Connor Walsh rounding out the bottom of the lineup. The second half has been more inconsistent at the plate, but for better or worse, the Owls know how the pieces are going to be put together on a weekly basis.
3. Clutch hitting comes and goes
Whether it was the walk-off win against UTSA or the ninth inning rally on Saturday afternoon, this team has showcased they can score runs in big moments. They know how to get the clutch hit. But when it comes to the grind of a full nine (or seven) inning game, the hits weren’t there this weekend.
Rice went 6-for-37 with runners in scoring position this weekend. They had multiple hits with runners in scoring position in a single game just once, going 4-for-11 in their lone victory. Rice hit .203 in the four-game series and .162 with runners in scoring position. That’s not going to get it done.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
THURSDAY | MTSU 4 – Rice 1
Middle Tennessee ace Aaron Brown was at his best in the opener. He struck out nine Owls on his way to a two-hit complete game. Rice generated its only run of the day on a Bradley Gneiting double, scoring Cade Edwards who had just been hit by a pitch in the previous at bat. At the time, that represented the tying run.
Deadlocked at 1-1 entering the eighth inning, Middle Tennessee engineered a two-0ut rally, scoring three runs with Drake Greenwood on the mound to reclaim the lead. Rice went quietly in the ninth.
FRIDAY 1 | MTSU 4 – Rice 3
Rice starter Roel Garcia was pulled after three innings in Game 2. He also exited early in the week prior with cramping issues, according to head coach Matt Bragga. When he left, the Owls were trailing 2-0, but still very much in the game. The two sides would train runs in the middle innings before Cade Edwards delivered an equalizing two-run home run in the seventh.
Once more, the two teams went to the late innings tied. And once again, Middle Tennessee found the clutch hit. This time coming in the form of a walk-off infield single to clinch Game 2.
FRIDAY 2 | Rice 4 – MTSU 1
Rice got a game back in the back end of the Friday double-header, turning a narrow 1-0 deficit into a three-run advantage with a crooked number in the fifth inning. Eight Owls came to the plate in the inning. Connor Walsh struck out to start the frame and Will Karp hit into a double play to end it. Between them, six other Owls tallied singles, scoring four.
For the second week in a row, Rice starter Mitchell Holcomb went seven innings. On this occasion, he held Middle Tennessee to just one run on four hits, striking out 10. Given the lead late, he held on for the Owls’ only win of the weekend.
SATURDAY | Rice 9 – MTSU 9 (Tie)
The scoring picked up on Saturday. Rice homered three times, two from Cade Edwards and scored three runs in two separate innings. Their eight-run outburst in regulation equaled their total scoring output from the first three games.
Twice, Rice thought they’d earned a series splt. The Owls entered the ninth inning trailing but scored three with the help of a Middle Tennessee error. The Blue Raiders got the run back in the bottom half of the inning on back-to-back doubles. A sac-fly put Rice three outs away in the 11th, but another RBI double equalized things in the bottom half. Curfew was called after 12 innings, ending the game in a tie.