Rice baseball showed some fight, but could not win their final series against Charlotte and won’t qualify for the Conference USA Tournament.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball splits series 2-2
1. Brandon Deskins an unsung hero of the 2021 pitching staff
The 2021 Rice baseball starting rotation was cobbled together from the start. Injuries, unpredictable weather happenings and performance altered the order and makeup of the four weekend starters with each successive series. Mitchell Holcomb and Roel Garcia were mainstays. Others made spot starts here and there. Brandon Deskins became the glue.
Deskins worked 53.1 innings this season with a 3.88 ERA, the best among all qualified players. He started seven games and entered others in high-leverage situations. He was tasked with getting a few outs here and there, but also worked several long relief appearances. The Rice pitching corps was better with him in it.
2. The freshmen are just getting started
Guy Garibay had an impressive weekend on the mound and at the plate. He got things started on Friday, throwing 7.2 innings in relief, allowing three runs and striking out five. Rice had fallen behind early, but it was Garibay’s career-long outing that gave Rice a chance to cut into the deficit.
His pitching performance would have been enough, but he also added a three-for-four outing at the plate in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. A bonafide two-way player, we’ve only scratched the surface of Garibay’s potential at South Main.
Alongside him, Justin Long and Nathan Becker both became regulars down the stretch. Becker’s power has been important and will be going forward. He had five RBI on the weekend including a big home run. Long’s .396 on base percentage ranks second on the team this year.
3. One season in a nutshell
Saturday’s second game of the doubleheader proved to be a microcosm of the Owls’ 2021 season. With the game tied late, Rice had a runner in scoring position with no outs in the sixth inning and eighth innings. They had a runner in scoring position and one out in the seventh. Rice was conceivably one hit away from winning the game, but couldn’t get the run home despite multiple opportunities in three straight innings.
Given the extra time, Charlotte outlasted Blake Brogdon, who made it through eight innings before ceding to Dalton Wood in the ninth. Wood allowed three hits, two runs and Rice lost the game.
Rice was a team talented enough to earn themselves opportunities that were too frequently squandered. For whatever the reason, this team never seemed to gel and put it all together. There are pieces, but there is also more work to be done.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Charlotte 9 – Rice 6
Mitchell Holcomb was rocked upon arrival on Friday. Five of the first six batters he faced reached base and things went downhill quickly. He was lifted in the second inning after recording just four outs and putting two men in scoring position for Garibay. Charlotte expanded their lead to 9-2 before Garibay was abe to settle in and cool the 49er bats.
Rice scratched across pairs of runs in the third courtesy of RBIs from Austin Bulman and Justin Long. Becker added two more in the sixth, but the hole proved too big to climb out of even with the extended time.
SATURDAY 1 | Rice 11 – Charlotte 8
Rice came out swinging on Saturday. The Owls struck for four runs in the first inning, led by a three-run blast from Becker. The Owls added a pair in the second and three more in the third. Starter Roel Garcia would be lifted in favor of Deskins midway through the third who was able to cool the Charlotte bats just enough to maintain the Owls’ early advantage.
Deskins would work 4.2 innings, finishing out the seven-inning affair and earning his third win on the season. A 2 RBI single from Braden Comeaux gave Deskins and the Owls some extra breathing room in the fifth, putting Rice ahead 11-5.
SATURDAY 2 | Charlotte 6 – Rice 4
Charlotte took a 4-0 lead early in the second half of the Saturday double header. The Rice bats slowly began to pick things up in the third, scratching across singular runs in each of the next four frames to tie the game. The Owls had several chances to put crooked numbers on the board, but were held at bay by the Charlotte pitching.
Starter Blake Brogdon went eight innings, his longest outing of the season, allowing just three earned runs. When he left, the deadlock broke in favor of the visitors with Rice dropping a winnable second-half of the double header.
SUNDAY | Rice 6 – Charlotte 0
The final conference game of the 2021 season for Rice baseball was one of the quirkier games of the season. The Owls put up a six-spot in the first inning, capped off by a grand slam from Hal Hughes.
Alex DeLeon, in his only start of the season, worked through five innings without allowing a run. With Rice at the plate midway through the bottom of the fifth, weather forced a delay and ultimately a cancelation of the remainder of the game.