Rice Baseball dropped the series, but put together two quality games against Texas Tech, boosting morale as conference play nears.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball drops series 3-0
There were parts of the weekend when Rice baseball looked every bit a worthy adversary for No. 15 Texas Tech. The Owls pitching dueled it out with the Red Raider arms and the bats came through in a few key moments to keep things interesting. Fielding woes were the most debilitating part of the series for Rice, but that alone wasn’t the difference between these two Lone Star programs.
“The last couple days have been different,” head coach Jose Cruz Jr. set in retrospect. Rice pushed Texas Tech to the wire in both games, suffering too many errors on Saturday and watching a ball ricochet awkwardly off third base on Sunday in a pivotal moment.
Last Time Out: Rice baseball drops first game of Silver Glove Series to UH
Rice baseball won’t have much time to regroup. They have two midweek games in the coming days before opening up conference play next weekend. But before we get there, more on what we learned from this series and what’s next for Rice baseball.
1. Baseball 101: Don’t drop it
Errors have been an unbelievably extensive issue for Rice baseball through their first few weeks of the season. Following a five-error outing on Friday night, the Owls had committed four or more errors in three of their last seven games.
With the three-game series against Texas Tech now in the books, they’ve still yet to play a full nine innings without committing an error this season. For context, Rice had 22 error-free games last season, keeping a zero on that part of the box score in 42 percent of their games.
Jack Riedel’s diving grab in shallow right-center field to open the third game was proof the Owls do have the capacity to play great defense in spurts. Right now they’d settle for just taking care of the routine plays. If they can do that, they’ll be in line to win more than their Sunday games.
2. Pitching performs
Coming into this weekend, Texas Tech had scored 12 first-inning runs this season. They scored one (unearned) run in their three first-inning at-bats against Rice. After struggling to get their starting rotation going early on this season, the Owls’ front-line arms were outstanding over the three-game slate.
And it wasn’t just the starters, the Rice bullpen put together some incredible outings as well. David Shaw went two scoreless on Saturday. Tom Vincent and Matthew Linskey were both extremely effective on Sunday. Even though they gave up some runs, Thomas Burbank and Garret Zaskoda both made big pitches on Friday night.
Texas Tech averaged 9.2 runs per game prior to their three-game series with Rice baseball. They averaged 6.7 runs against the Owls, but only 4.6 earned runs. Holding this offense that far below their average should have been enough to win some games. It’ll get there if all phases start firing at the same time.
3. Hitting … TBD
Rice baseball is roughly a month into its season and there are still plenty of unknowns regarding who is going to be hitting (or attempting to hit) the baseball for the Owls. Aaron Smigeliski, Guy Garibay, Austin Bulman and Connor Walsh have essentially inked their names into the lineup card, but most everyone else seems to remain on a game-to-game basis.
Fortunately for the Owls, those players that have been cycling through the lineup have started to find their stroke. “It was contributions from a lot of people in different parts of lineup,” Cruz Jr. said. “Which is what it’s going to take for us to be successful.”
It took the bats a while to get going, but they did come through with some big hits with runners in scoring position this weekend. They’ll need some more of that if they’re going to turn close losses into wins against a quality opponent like Texas Tech, but the bones are there if Rice can get just a little bit more from the back end of the lineup, too.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Texas Tech 10 – Rice 1
Whether it was chilly weather or superb pitching, both teams came out of the gate slowly on the opening night of the series. As the game progressed into the fifth inning with Rice trailing 2-1, the Owls looked every bit the part of a quality opponent for the Red Raiders. Then the bottom fell out on the fielding side and the bats simply weren’t potent enough to overcome the shift.
The Rice defense committed five errors, the first of which set up the big four-run fifth inning that redefined the game. Rice pitchers struck out 10 but walked eight. Further amplifying the defensive woes. Texas Tech out-hit Rice 9-8 and would tack on additional runs following their 6-1 fifth-inning lead as the Owls went quietly down the stretch.
SATURDAY | Texas Tech 3 – Rice 2
Rice spotted Texas Tech an unearned run in the first inning on Saturday. Then they handed them another in the fourth inning. In fact, the Red Raiders didn’t score an earned run until an RBI double in the ninth inning. The Rice pitching was simply better.
In what was one of his best outings of his career at Reckling Park, Roel Garcia struck out nine batters in four innings with one walk and one extra-base hit allowed. David Shaw called with two scoreless innings of no-hit ball with Alex DeLeon working three strong frames, despite allowing the go-ahead hit. The Rice offense picked up some clutch hits two even the score at 2-2 in the eighth, but there wasn’t enough juice to hold on.
SUNDAY | Texas Tech 7 – Rice 1
Both teams picked up right where they left off when they arrived at the ballpark for the series finale. Rice struck first, taking their first lead of the weekend on a first-inning sacrifice fly from Aaron Smigelski. Texas Tech would tie it in the third before Rice came through with two RBI singles in the fourth to take a 4-1 advantage.
It would be Texas Tech’s turn after that. The Red Raiders broke through against Reed Gallant and Christian Cienfuegos in the middle innings, taking a 6-4 lead through six innings. Texas Tech would retire 15 straight Rice batters and tack on one more run, winning 7-4.
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