Rice Baseball was swept by No. 6 Southern Miss despite numerous chances to make the series much closer early in the weekend.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball drops series 3-0
From a pitcher’s duel to a blowout-shortened game, Rice baseball saw everything in their weekend sweep by Southern Miss — everything except for runs. The Owls have lost four consecutive conference series and enter the last few weeks of the regular season with an 11-29 overall record, 4-14 in conference play. Here are a few takeaways from the weekend.
1. Situational hitting
Finding base runners was challenging this weekend, but for the most part, Rice had opportunities to drive in runs but did not capitalize. Rice was 1-for-2 with runners in scoring position in Friday night’s 1-0 pitcher’s duel, then 2-for-12 on Saturday and 1-for-6 on Sunday.
The Owls had one two-out RBI. Southern Miss had eight. There wasn’t any way to squint at the boxscore and walk away feeling comfortable with what the lineup was able to do in situations where one hit had the potential to tangibly impact the bottom line.
For the weekend, Rice hit .167 when the bases were empty. The Owls hit .128 with runners on in any capacity, tallying five total hits when they had anyone on base in the three game series. The Southern Miss pitching was tremendous, but Rice wasn’t exactly putting their best foot forward at the plate either.
Rice baseball hitters struck out 42 times in 25 innings, a rate of roughly 1.7 batters per inning. When more than half of your at bats don’t get the ball in play at all, you have a problem. There were several occasions where those punchouts killed golden run scoring opportunities.
Friday, Top 7. With Rice trailing 1-0 and Aaron Smigelski at second base, Pierce Gallo struck out. The runner would never advance. Rice would lose 1-0.
Saturday, Top 3. Rice had the bases loaded with no outs and had already forced Southern Miss to go to the bullpen. After an infield fly from Galo, Jack Ben-Shoshan struck out looking, handing a two-out situation to Justin Long who grounded out. Rice wouldn’t score again for the rest of the game.
It’s not an individual problem, and those two examples aren’t meant to isolate the players themselves, moreso they point to a trend that has proven extremely detrimental to this team over the past several weeks.
3. Silver linings
- Aaron Smigelski had a sold weekend at the plate, accounting for three of the Owls’ 13 hits.
- Manny Garza went 2-for-3 on Sunday, his second multi-hit game of the year. He’s batting .438 on the season after recently returning to the lineup after injuries kept him on the shelf for several weeks.
- The defense turned three double-plays on Saturday, a season high. Fielding was altogether better on the whole. Rice committed four errors in three games, but had just one error in the first two games combined.
- Cooper Chandler was fantastic on Friday night, throwing a season-long seven innings.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Southern Miss 1 – Rice 0
The first seven Rice batters struck out and the offense didn’t collect their first hit until the fourth inning. On most days, particularly away from the confines of Reckling Park, that would have left the Owls in a sizable hole. That wasn’t the case this time around, thanks to the near-flawless outing of Cooper Chandler.
Chandler allowed a leadoff double in the sixth which would come around to score on a sacrifice fly, but otherwise he was superb, allowing five hits in 7.0 innings with four strikeouts and no walks. Matthew Linskey followed with a spotless eighth, but the bats never got going. Rice managed three total hits, two of which came in the fourth inning when Nathan Becker was thrown out at the plate.
SATURDAY | Southern Miss 6 – Rice 3
Rice got another strong outing on the mound on Saturday, this time from Alex DeLeon who cruised through four innings before running into trouble in the fifth. Rice led 3-1 at the time, cobbling together a few runs in the second and third innings. It wouldn’t be enough. When DeLeon was ambushed, the situation devolved quickly.
Southern Miss led off that inning with back-to-back doubles followed by a home run. David Shaw would finish the free, but the damage had been done. Trailing 6-3, the Rice offense wouldn’t score again, despite Shaw finishing out the game with an impressive 3.2 innings of one-run ball.
SUNDAY | Southern Miss 12 – Rice 2 (7 innings)
That one crooked inning would do Rice in again on Sunday, but early on everything seemed to be in line with the beginnings of the first two contests of the weekend. Southern Miss scratched across singular runs in the second and third off starter Thomas Burbank. Rice tied the game up in the second on a two-run home run from Nathan Becker.
Even when Southern Miss answer in the fifth with three runs against Roel Garcia, it didn’t feel like the game was out of reach. But that would prove to only be the tip of the iceberg. Southern Miss erupted for seven runs in the seventh inning, ending with a grand slam to put the home team ahead 12-2. The game was called at that point, leaving Rice to head back home on a low note after two much more competitive games.
ON DECK | vs Western Kentucky (Fri-Sun)
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