Rice baseball started strong, riding two early wins to a series split against UTSA in a rematch of a previous meeting this season.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball splits series 2-2
1. Split shows signs of progress
Rice baseball has yet to win a weekend series against a conference opponent. Coming into this weekend, they hadn’t managed a split either. So by taking the first two games against the Roadrunners, tangible signs of progress were produced. When Rice puts together a complete game from all phases — not even necessarily a dominant showing by any group — this team can win.
At the same time, the failure to come close in either of the final two games left some well-deserved frustrations. Both things can be true. Not winning the series was a missed opportunity, especially when Rice had the luxury of throwing Roel Garcia in the finale. That should have been advantage, Owls.
2. The bullpen issues linger
Four times in four games, Rice gave up four or more runs in a single inning. The only game they avoided a crooked number, Game 2, they won. As for the rest of the series, they lost two of three when surrendering a big inning. Those bullpen blowups have hampered this team tremendously. Individual arms have flashed one weekend and failed the next.
That makes it hard for head coach Matt Bragga to know what buttons to press. Now he’s forced to ask himself not only “can this guy get the job done?” but also “is he going to be locked in today or not?”. Bragga would probably own up to being a bit too slow to use the hook, but it’s a two-way street with both sides showing weaknesses.
3. Fielding isn’t doing the Owls any favors
The bullpen hasn’t been perfect, but their struggles don’t fall solely on the guys on the mound. Errors were costly to Rice this weekend, and they’ve cropped up more than a few times for Rice over the last few weeks. In conference play, Rice sports a .966 fielding percentage, ninth in Conference USA.
The Owls committed no errors in either of their wins against UTSA this weekend. They committed two errors in each of their losses, including errors in those crucial blowup innings. When looked at another way, Rice allowed seven unearned runs in the final two games. That’s not going to cut it.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Rice 8 – UTSA 6
Following a lengthy lightning delay, the Owls got things started off on the right foot with three runs in the first two innings, two of which came with two outs. That spotted Micah Davis, who threw the first two innings in place of Garcia, given the unexpected and extended delay. Davis gave was to a bullpen day, which, apart from a woeful outing by Drake Greenwood, kept Rice right in the mix.
Tied up at six apiece entering the bottom half of the fifth inning, Bragga turned to Brandon Deskins. He struck out eight in the final five frames, allowing just four hits and no runs. That gave the offense enough opportunities to break through, which they did in the sixth courtesy of a pair of RBI groundouts from Braden Comeaux and Bradley Gneiting to put Rice ahead for good.
SATURDAY 1 | Rice 5 – UTSA 4
Starter Mitchell Holcomb allowed some contact and a quarter of one-run innings, but his workmanlike efforts prevented UTSA from every compiling a big inning in the opener of Saturday’s doubleheader. While Holcomb held things close, the Rice offense did their best to chip away.
Trailing 4-3 entering the sixth, freshman Nathan Becker homered to tie things up. Then, in the seventh and final inning, a sac fly from Guy Garibay, who step onto the mound for his fourth save in the bottom half of the inning, gave Rice the win.
SATURDAY 2 | UTSA 12 – Rice – 6
Cade Edwards scored on a wild pitch in the first inning to give Rice an early lead. The Owls hung a five-spot in the third with big RBI extra-base hits from Garibay and Will Karp. But none of it would prove to be enough to overcome what has become a much-too-frequent disaster inning from the Rice pitching staff.
Matthew Linskey, who’d faired well as an opener in previous outings, failed to record an out to start the game. He walked two batters and hit a pair, the second of which drove in the tying run. He was lifted for Garrett Zaskoda, but the next man up wasn’t able to quell the trouble. Zaskoda would be removed in favor of Josh Larzabal before the inning was through. Nine runs later, the inning ended and this one was essentially over.
SUNDAY | UTSA 12 – Rice 4
Things set up well for Rice entering the final game of the weekend. With Garcia on the mound after Friday’s weather, the Owls were able to hold UTSA scoreless through the fourth inning. Up 1-0 courtesy of an Austin Bulman RBI single in the fourth, Rice was unable to finish.
An error and two singles loaded the bases for UTSA in the fifth. Blake Brogdon entered and wasn’t at his best. He allowed a RBI double and a three-run home run, turning a tight game into a one-sided affair. Rice would close the gap to 7-4 in the eighth, before Brogdon ran into more trouble and UTSA piled on a few additional insurance runs.
ON DECK | Southern Miss (Fri-Sun, four games).
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