Shaky defense soured a productive evening for the Rice baseball offense as the Owls fell to Houston in Game 1 of the Silver Glove Series.
The recent string of strange, painful games accumulated by Rice baseball this season continued on Tuesday night. Amidst a backdrop of errors and missed opportunities, Parker Smith delivered a strong performance, eventually be saddled with five runs, although only three were earned.
The drama began on what should have been a routine fly-ball hit to left fielder Jack Ben-Shoshan in the first inning. Instead of out number two, the ball bounced off his glove and put two runners in scoring position. Both would come in to score, spotting the visiting Cougars to a 2-0 lead.
Last Time Out : Takeaways from Rice Baseball 3-1 series loss to Harvard
Rice would leave the bases loaded in the second before loading them once more in the third inning, despite not tallying any hits. Aaron Smigelski would take care of that evasive base knock, delivering a two-run double to spot Rice to a 3-2 lead. That advantage would last mere minutes before Houston found the equalizer in the fourth when a would-be base stealer would score from second on a pair of errors.
Soon after, Rice found themselves trailing 5-3 and began to chip away. Rice scored would engineer runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, tying things up with Houston 6-6 after the Owls allowed another unearned run following another outfield mishap.
On the mound, Garrett Zaskoda was extremely effective after taking the reigns from Cooper Chandler in his first relief appearance of the season. Zaskoda tied a career-high with four strikeouts, giving the team a fighting chance in the middle innings which they’d hold until an RBI double scored the winning runs against Zaskoda’s replacement, Brandon Deskins, in the eighth.
What they’re saying | Fix the fielding
Head coach Jose Cruz Jr. was quick to praise the strong outings on the mound, giving nods to several individuals including Chandler, who essentially threw his midweek bullpen session in the game. The critical comments came when addressing the fielding woes. “I don’t know how you can possibly have five errors and win a game,” he said. “That’s just something that we’re going to have to fix. The amount of errors we’ve had in so many games is just unacceptable.”
Cruz Jr. went as far as to say he’d consider moving players to the bench if they couldn’t hold on to the baseball. At this point, everything is on the table as he and the rest of the coaching staff work to assemble the best starting lineup to win games.
“We had three errors in the outfield today and that’s crazy town. I mean, that doesn’t happen,” Cruz Jr. said. Indeed, it hasn’t happened for Rice baseball since an eight error game against Arizona in 2019, spread across a host of different position players.
What it means | Offense waking up?
Seven runs against anyone is a particularly important milestone for a team that’s struggled at the plate early this season. Tuesday was proof the Owls can get the bats going. Now they just need to do it consistently.
They might start working on a bust of Aaron Smigeliski to keep in the Rice baseball dugout. After pinch hits in his first two appearances of the season, Smigelski earned his spot in the regular lineup where he stayed until being hit by a pitch in the Sunday finale against Lamar. That injury kept him out of the lineup against Baylor and through the weekend series against Harvard.
He made his return to the order on Tuesday, walking in his first plate appearance to earn an eight-game on-base streak. He one-upped that accolade in his second plate appearance, blasting a double to the alley in right-center, turning a 2-1 Rice deficit into a 3-2 Rice lead. It was the Owls’ only hit of the first three innings, but it was the biggest. He also added a productive out to advance a runner in the seventh.
At a time when the bats around him were struggling, Smigelski made every trip to the plate count, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBI. In all seriousness, it’ll take more than a good couple of weeks to earn some tangible hardware. But in a season filled with lows for Rice baseball, Smigelski has been a bright light.
Jack Riedel also earned a mention. Despite not starting the game and coming in as a defensive replacement in the fourth inning he finished a triple short of the cycle, mashing his first career home run along the way.
ON DECK | Texas Tech
The extended Rice baseball homestand marches on this coming weekend with a three-game set against Texas Tech. First pitch for Friday is set for 6:30 p.m. The series will be the Owls’ final non-conference weekend slate before opening up conference play the following weekend against UAB.
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