Rice Baseball averted the sweep, but still turned in a rather poor outing against Harvard in the Owls’ second home series loss of the season.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball drops series 3-1
Perhaps someone just needs to whisper “It’s Sunday” into the Rice baseball dugout every day. Two of the Owls’ three wins this year have come in the final game of their weekend series with the other coming in a midweek tilt at Houston Baptist. Rice picked up its third win of the year this weekend, but it came with a tangible cost — three more painful losses. What did we learn from the 1-3 weekend and what’s next for Rice baseball?
1. Mayday, offense
It wasn’t until the shadows started to creep across the diamond at Reckling Park late Saturday afternoon that the Rice offense even began to consider showing up for the week. Rice was blanked 9-0 by Baylor on Wednesday. On Friday night, Harvard skunked the Owls 3-0. Then Rice failed to scratch across even a singular run through five innings on the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader.
Even when accounting for the nine-run outburst on Sunday afternoon, Rice accumulated 12 runs in fives games this week dating back to the Baylor disaster. That’s an average of 2.4 runs per game. While there are days when a team can get away with that low of a run total, more often than not, you’re going to need more oomph to win college baseball game these days, you just are.
Last Time Out: Baylor blanks Owls in midweek tilt
Head coach Jose Cruz Jr. did what he could on Sunday to spark the sluggish unit. He flipped up the batting order and shuffled names around. That did help, but the bulk of the production still came from the core of Guy Garibay, Austin Bulman, Connor Walsh and Nathan Becker, four guys who were likely to be in the lineup in some capacity anyway.
Whether it’s improved approaches, better plate discipline or all of the above, the task in the batter’s box has reached critical levels of importance.
2. Starting pitching might be coming around
For the first weekend this year, Rice baseball had more decent outings from the bulk of their starting rotation. Cooper Chandler went 5.0 innings and allowed two earned runs with six strikeouts, by far his best outing of the season. On Saturday, Roel Garcia went four scoreless frames. More length would have been a bonus for both of them, but leaving the game midway through without putting the team in a large hole is a win for now.
Thomas Burbank was really the only starter who had a “bad” outing. His 3.0 inning, three-run performance will be colored by the double he surrendered on his final pitch which allowed two to score and staked Harvard to an early 3-0 lead. At that point in the series, Rice simply had to try someone else to attempt to salvage a split.
Lastly, Alex DeLeon earned the win on Sunday with four innings of two-run ball. He only struck out one batter but competed well, giving up one home run in an otherwise quality outing. That quartet was far from perfect, but none of them singlehandedly lost Rice games. That hasn’t been the case in previous weekends to date.
3. It’s going to be a long season
Rice baseball is 3-9 through their first 12 games. It’s true, starting off with No. 1 ranked Texas in Austin was a brutal welcoming to a new era at South Main, but the Owls have played the next nine games at Reckling Park. And if the likes of Lamar and Harvard can reprise the fabled murder’s row of the Yankee greats, how will this team respond to above-average teams. Like, Baylor, perhaps?
This isn’t a call for anyone to throw in the towels, heaven’s no. But it is a sobering reminder that this young team is going to need to develop from the ground up. There’s a ton of talent standing on the grass at Reckling right now. Every piece just isn’t fully in sync with each other.
To his credit, Cruz Jr. didn’t place the bar as high as those outside the program might have initially demanded it. “I’m not going to promise the moon right now,” he said during the lead up to the season. “I will say we will be better than we were the last couple years.”
Rice was 2-14 in 2020 and 23-29-1 last season. This iteration of Rice baseball is already above the 2020 club. They’ve got a ways to go until they’re anywhere in the ballpark of .500. That’s probably okay, but it’s going to have to take some getting used to as they grow and develop in real time.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Harvard 3 – Rice 0
Harvard struck first with a leadoff double to set the table in the second inning. They followed it up with a manufactured run via a couple of singles in these second. Despite cobbling together just one hit through three innings, Rice still had an opportunity to answer with the bases loaded in the bottom of the third with no outs. Austin Bulman struck out and Guy Garibay lined out to right field to end the threat.
Neither team would score for the next six innings. Harvard pushed across an insurance run in the ninth courtesy of a Rice error. The Owls went quietly. Rice had three times as many strikeouts (15) as hits (5) for the day. Had it not been for quality outings on the mound from Chandler, Garret Zaskoda, David Shaw and DeLeon, there wouldn’t have been anything positive to take away from this game.
SATURDAY (AM) | Harvard 2 – Rice 1
The offense was equally disappointing in the first end of Saturday’s double header. The Owls sent the minimum to the plate five times in the seven-inning game and scored just one run. That came in the bottom half of the sixth inning which had just seen the Rice defense commit two errors, contributing to Harvard’s only two runs of the game.
Once more, the Rice pitching staff was fine. Garcia had a strong performance. Even though Brandon Deskins was charged with the games’ only two runs, neither was earned and he pitched relatively well. The defense just did not help him out.
SATURDAY (PM) | Harvard 6 – Rice 3
The back end of the doubleheader featured some of the Owls’ more disappointing outings on the mound from the weekend. Burbank was hit hard, giving up three extra-base hits in three innings. Mark Perkins recorded just as many outs as he handed out walks (two apiece) and Dalton Wood’s struggles with the strikeout continued. His three runs allowed in the fifth inning sunk any chance Rice had of mounting a comeback.
Rice got two runs back in the fifth via a fielder’s choice followed by a well-placed double by Bulman. A sac fly from Garibay would make it 6-3 in the seventh, but the hole was just too big to overcome.
SUNDAY | Rice 9 – Harvard 6
Three games’ worth (or more) of frustration boiled over on Sunday as Rice delivered a three-spot in the first inning, two more runs in the second and another in the third. Harvard would score twice against DeLeon, but the Rice bats did not slow down. Rice scored at least one run in five of the first six innings, staking the bullpen to a 9-2 lead and asking them for nine outs.
For the most part, Tom Vincent and Reed Gallant threw strikes. Each walked just one batter in more than one inning of work (2.0 for Vincent, 1.1 for Gallant). While each was credited with two runs, the cushion they were pitching with was sufficient to net Rice the win.
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