Rice Baseball came out flat against the Charlotte 49ers and watched their C-USA Tournament hopes fade in a three-game sweep.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball loses the series 3-0
It was a rough weekend on the road for Rice baseball who couldn’t put together a complete game when they needed it most, falling to deficiencies on the mound, at the plate and in the field in a pivotal series for their postseason hopes. The sweep is the Owls’ fourth of conference play. Rice is now 13-34 overall and 6-18 in conference play. Here are a few takeaways from the weekend.
1. Two skunks
Rice knew they couldn’t afford to be swept this weekend if there was any hope of catching Charlotte in the race for one of the final remaining spots in the Conference USA Tournament. With that urgency as inspiration, the Owls then proceeded to trot out onto the diamond and put up zero runs in two of the three games of the series.
The twin skunks represented the fifth and sixth time this season the Owls had been held off the scoreboard entirely in a game. Texas, Baylor, Harvard and Southern Miss all hung a zip on Rice this season. Charlotte had two, and the 49ers’ 5.77 team ERA in conference after posting two shutouts is still in the bottom half of the league.
Last Time Out: Rice baseball drops Silver Glove series with UH loss
Rice tallied a combined five hits in games one and three together, saving the bulk of their productive contact for the Saturday in which they outhit Charlotte 17-15 but lost 14-13. Even on their best day at the plate, Charlotte was better, a subtle, but recurring theme in this series.
2. Spots earned
Pierce Gallo wasn’t a surefire lock to be in the starting lineup heading into the season. When injuries opened up playing time for him he grabbed hold of the opportunity and never let go. As good as Gallo has been in the field, his bat has brought timely hits as well. On a weekend when hits were hard to come by, Gallo has four base knocks (including three doubles) and two RBI.
In addition to Gallo, Aaron Smigelski and Nathan Becker both rank top five among all Owls in slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
While much will be made of where this team has collectively fallen short of expectations heading into the season, the emergence of those underclassmen with multiple years of eligibility remaining has been a salve to the hard times and a reminder that the future has plenty of bright spots.
3. Hoping for a miracle
In a game filled with superstitions, Rice needs the baseball equivalent of a hail mary over the course of the next few weeks. The Owls enter the final six games of Conference USA play exactly give games behind of UAB for the final spot in the conference tournament.
UAB took two of three from the Owls at Reckling earlier this season, giving them the tiebreaker should both squads end up deadlocked in their final records.
Rice can (mathematically) make the tournament if they sweep their final two series (vs MTSU, at FIU) and UAB is swept by FIU at home and UTSA on the road. Needless to say, the outlook is grim.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | Charlotte 13 – Rice 0
Either David Shaw wasn’t nearly as crisp as he was the weekend prior or the Charlotte bats were on the warpath. Regardless of the cause, Shaw’s exit without recording an out in the fourth inning gave way to a spiraling effect for the rest of the team.
Trailing 5-0, Rice baseball head coach Jose Cruz Jr. rolled with dice with powerful, yet erratic, Miach Davis. He walked the bases full, handing Reid Gallant a powderkeg which exploded and turned into a seven-run inning for Charlotte. At that point, Rice found themselves in a 13-0 hole and there wasn’t anything they were going to be able to do on four hits to get out of it.
SATURDAY | Charlotte 14 – Rice 13
Charlotte struck with a big crooked number even earlier on Saturday morning, hanging six runs on Rice starter Alex DeLeon in the second inning. They’d add three more runs in the fourth and five runs in the fifth. Facing a daunting 14-4 deficit at that point, Rice could have very well hung it up. But with the fate of the series still at stake, the bats answered.
Rice got five runs back in the sixth inning with two RBI hits in the inning coming from Connor Walsh and Pierce Gallo. Now trailing 14-9, Rice would edge ever so closer on a home run from Walsh in the subsequent inning. 14-10. Had it not been for the masterful work of Mark Perkins on the mound, the comeback might never have gotten that close. He went 3 innings, allowing one earned run.
Then came the ninth where Walsh cleared the bases with a three-run home run to make the score 14-13, in favor of Charlotte. The dreams of a rally crescendoed right up until a double-play ball with the tying run on third base snuffed out the dream and ended the game with a heartwrenching thud.
SUNDAY | Charlotte 9 – Rice 0
The wind seemed out of the Owls’ sails from the start in the series finale. Brandon Deskins, Cooper Chandler and Roel Garcia combined to hand out nine walks, nine hits and nine runs while the lineup produced exactly one hit in support: a double from Gallo. Even with the tepid output from Rice, the game still dragged on for three hours and twelve minutes.
Rice batters did manage to walk four times, but only managed to push a base runner to second base on two occasions. That wasn’t going to get it done against a Charlotte offense that would total 36 runs in the three-game sweep.