Rice baseball needed a strong showing against UAB and got it, with all phases contributing to the Owls’ first C-USA series win.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball wins series 3-1
1. The few, the proud
The Rice bullpen has been hit or miss this season. Knowing that, head coach Matt Bragga appears to have found a makeshift solution: limit their innings. Of the 31+ innings thrown by Rice pitching this weekend, starters accounted for 23 of them, roughly 74 percent.
The only game in which the starter did not go six innings was the Sunday finale. The starter in that game, Brandon Deskins, was the lone reliever the Owls utilized in the prior three games of the series, throwing two innings on Friday and another three on Sunday.
2. Strong up top
The top of the lineup has been the difference-maker for the Rice offense this season. When they’re at their best, players like Cade Edwards, Braden Comeaux, Bradley Gneiting and Austin Bulman have the capability to overcome other offensive lulls. This weekend painted that picture as clear as ever.
Rice racked up 23 RBI on the weekend, 15 of which were drive in by those top four hitters in the lineup. Nathan Becker had two RBI in the second Saturday game and Will Karp picked up a pair on Sunday, but the rest of the run production largely rested at the top.
3. The right to play another day
A sweep would have been best, but Rice baseball did their part with a series win this weekend, pushing them up one rung in the conference standings. The Owls are now tied in the win column with UAB and FIU. More importantly, Rice is within striking distance of Middle Tennessee for what will likely be the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament.
The math gets tricky with the ties thrown in, but the most likely scenario for Rice to qualify would be this: Rice wins their upcoming series against Charlotte and Middle Tennessee loses their series at FIU. Rice could also advance with a sweep and a Middle split or a split and Middle being swept. Either way, they need to make up a two-loss differential.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Rice 6 – UAB 1
It’s been a bumpy road for starter Mitchell Holcomb, but he’s settled in down the stretch as one of the Owls’ most competitive pitchers. He a gem on Friday, tossing seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts. With him keeping the UAB offense at bay, the Rice bats did the rest.
Rice scratched across single tallies in the first and second innings before Edwards added to the breathing room with a two-run RBI in the fourth. The Owls extended their lead again in the sixth before Bulman capped things off with a home run of his own in the ninth.
SATURDAY 1 | UAB 2 – Rice 1
Staked to a 1-0 lead by an Austin Bulman sac-fly, Roel Garcia delivered one of his stronger outings of the season in the first half of the Saturday doubleheader. He breezed through six innings, a season-long outing, allowing three hits and one unearned run.
Asked to return to the mound for the seventh inning, Garcia ran out of gas. He allowed three hits including the walk-off winner. The intentional decision to trust the rotation paid off in other games during this series. It came back to bit the Owls in this one as the offense tallied just six hits in seven frames.
SATURDAY 2 | Rice 7 – UAB 0
Clearly frustrated from how the first game ended, Rice came out swinging in the nightcap. Gneiting picked up RBI hits in the first and second innings as the Owls jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Things could have gotten even further out of hand had Rice not left the bases loaded in the second.
None of that would matter, though, starter Blake Brogdon was locked in on the mound. Given a big lead, he went the distance, completing the seven-inning game without allowing any runs and scattering five hits. Some insurance runs were added in the later innings, but Brogdon was the driving force.
SUNDAY | Rice 10 – UAB 5
Rice entered Sunday with the opportunity to secure their first Conference USA series win of the season, and a necessary one if they hoped to realize any conference tournament aspirations. Deskins got them off to a great start on the bump, but it was a crooked number from the offense in the fifth inning that blew this game open.
Edwards got things going in earnest with a three run home run, but the bats didn’t slow down. Following that blast, Antonio Cruz and Hal Hughes added RBI doubles to extend the lead to 6-1 in the Owls’ favor. A three-run seventh put things out of reach, giving Rice their first double-digit run total since April 17, a win over Old Dominion.