Rice Baseball ended its 2022 season on a high note, notching their first series sweep in their final weekend, taking all three from FIU on the road.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball wins the series 3-0
For the first time this season, Rice baseball swept their opponent in three straight games. Fresh off an extra-inning win over Houston, the Owls rode that momentum through the weekend, finishing the season playing what was by far their best baseball yet. Rice finished the year with a final record of 17-39 overall and 9-21 in conference play. Here are a few takeaways from the weekend.
1. The pitching came through at the end
After months of tweaking and shifting players into different roles, Rice baseball finally found a combination that seemed to work on the mound. Cooper Chandler was terrific, after missing time with an injury he bounced back to throw a scoreless seven innings on Friday’s win, backed by sterling relief appearances from Garrett Zaskoda and Micah Davis.
Brandon Deskins pitched a pair of multi-inning outings this weekend, striking out nine of the 16 total batters he faced without allowing a run. Matthew Linskey picked up save number five on Sunday. Almost to the man, the Rice staff was incredible.
Last Time Out: Rice baseball rallies past UH in extras
Head coach Jose Cruz Jr. made was quick to acknowledge the Owls’ successes on the mound, running down a similar last of hurlers who had big weekend. He seemed particularly thankful to have guys like Linskey and Parker Smith (who pitched in two of the Owls’ final four wins of the year) back in the fold next season.
2. Austin Bulman will be missed
Although much has (and will be) said about the young talent Rice baseball will bring back next year, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact Austin Bulman had on this team during this series and this season. Bulman was the most productive hitter for the Owls on the weekend, driving in all three RBI in Saturday’s sweep-clinching win.
Bulman, who went 4-for-10 (.400) during the series, was measured in his final comments wearing blue and gray. “Things worked out for the Owls,” he said. “So I’m happy I got to go out on a high note.”
Postgame with Austin Bulman. pic.twitter.com/8UQvKVbTZH
— Rice Baseball (@RiceBaseball) May 21, 2022
Beyond this series, Bulman will finish the season with a .280/.350/.514 slash line and the second-best OPS on the team (.864) among those who played in at least 30 games. A leader on this team for the past several seasons, his bat and his voice will be challenging to fill next year.
3. What the record says they are
With the 2022 season officially in the books, Rice baseball has finished ninth in the conference standings. Their combined record against the three teams below them (7-2) looks a lot different than their record against the top eight squads (2-19) who made the conference tournament. Given that divergence, it’s crystal clear just how good Rice was this season.
Cruz Jr. broke a smile but remained focused as he recapped how the year finished. “To be able to get a sweep is a big deal for us. It’s exciting to end in a positive way,” he said. “We changed some things around at the end and it worked. So now it’s just get ready, keep building and see how good we can get.”
At this point it seems clear Rice can beat the “bad” teams. What remains to be seen is whether or not the Owls can elevate themselves out of that tier of squads that didn’t play in any postseason games into a team that gets a chance at a conference tournament appearance next year. Cruz Jr. made no promises to that end, but he commanded his team for how they ended things.
“They committed to finishing out the season strong,” he acknowledge. “A lot of guys showed up at the end.”
THE PLAY BY PLAY
THURSDAY | Rice 8 – FIU 2
FIU scored the first run of the weekend in the bottom of the first inning, sandwiching a key stolen base around back-to-back singles to sneak across the opening tally. That was just about the only success the Panthers were able to have against the Rice pitching staff which shuffled through four different arms, all of which had success against the Panthers’ lineup.
David Shaw led the way with three strong innings before ceding to Alex DeLeon and Brandon Deskins, who was credited with his third win of the season. Meanwhile, the Rice bats went to work. Jack Riedel and Aaron Smigelski helped break the game open with RBI doubles in a four-run fourth inning before Connor Walsh added insurance with a three-run home run in the ninth.
FRIDAY | Rice 10 – FIU 0
Rice baseball utilized another big inning on Friday, quickly smashing through what had been a 0-0 pitcher’s duel with a 5-run sixth inning that gave Rice a commanding 7-0 lead. Aaron Smigelski, who had already driven in two runs with a fifth-inning home run, picked up two more RBI with another two-run shot in the sixth.
That second blast put the freshmen in rarified air. Smigelski became the first Owl to hit three multi-home run games in a season since Anthony Rendon did so in 2010. The long balls also provided Cooper Chandler with plenty to work with while he delivered a masterful seven-inning, three-hit scoreless gem on the way to his second win of the year.
SATURDAY | Rice 3 – FIU 1
To some degree, it was several of the familiar faces that propelled the Owls to their first sweep of the season on Saturday. Parker Smith worked a near-flawless 5.1 innings, allowing one unearned run on three hits. He have relief to Brandon Deskins, who pitched another strong outing in relief before handing the baton to Matthew Linskey to slam the door with two strong innings to earn the save.
Austin Bulman gave Rice a 2-0 lead in the first with a home run and provided an insurance run in the eighth via a sacrifice fly. It was an efficient, two-hour, 29-minute win that — while close on the scoreboard — had the feeling of a contest that was very much so under control from start to finish.
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