For the third weekend in a row, Rice baseball dropped a conference series, this time coming at home against a red-hot, ranked Louisiana Tech club.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball loses series 4-0
1. Mental toughness is missing
Rice was locked into a pitcher’s duel on Friday night. Owls’ hurler Blake Brogdon was going toe-to-toe with C-USA Pitcher of the Year candidate Jonathan Fincher. But when Brogdon waivered in the sixth inning, the team behind him folded. Dalton Wood entered with two men in scoring position and no outs. He walked two, allowed a run on a passed ball and another run on a balk.
Rice blew a two-run lead in the final inning to start Saturday’s doubleheader. Then they were blasted 20-6 in the second leg. Things went from bad to worse quickly, and nobody was there to stop the bleeding. On Sunday Rice led 2-1, then when tied 2-2, allowed a crushing 4-run sixth inning.
Head coach Matt Bragga summed it up well in a recent conversation. “As a club, we’re not mentally tough enough.” If Rice wants to contend in Conference USA. That has to change. Losing close games is painful, but wilting when the spotlight shines brightest is doubly painful.
2. Come give Comeaux some help
Rice baseball had one player on the Conference USA Preseason All-Conference team, senior third baseman Braden Comeaux. Through the first half of the season, Comeaux has more than proven his inclusion among the leagues’ best was well deserved. He’s made some spectacular plays on the hot corner and continues to hit everyone he sees.
Comeaux was one of four Owls’ to get a hit off Fincher on Friday. He helped jump-start a four-run third inning on Saturday afternoon and had a multi-hit outing Saturday night. His relentless consistency has been the best part of the Rice offense all season.
3. Missing a dominant phase
What’s hurt Rice the most during this tough opening stretch to conference play is the lack of one dominant aspect of their game to fall back on. Rice has an average offense by most metrics. Their pitching is below average. The fielding has been slightly above average, but the Owls did commit five errors this weekend across the four games.
Teams like UTSA (a great offense) or Middle Tennessee (great pitching) have managed to hover around .500 in the league play. Rice doesn’t have to fix everything all at once to start winning more baseball games, but at least one phase needs to take a step-change if Rice wants to stay competitive down the stretch.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY | LA Tech 6 – Rice 0
Blake Brogdon kept Louisiana Tech at bay for five innings, but the Rice bats never proved much of a threat on Friday night against Jonathan Fincher. When Louisiana Tech broke the tie in the sixth, the Bulldogs’ three-run outburst felt like a much more exorbitant deficit.
Another three-run inning for Louisiana Tech in the eighth pushed the game further out of reach. Rice managed just four hits and had multiple base runners in just two of the nine innings.
SATURDAY 1 | LA Tech 7 – Rice 6
The bats were more productive for Rice on Saturday, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to take a 6-2 lead after five innings. Cade Edwards and Bradley Gneiting hit two-run home runs. Austin Bulman and Connor Walsh provided the other run-scoring hits.
As the offense worked, Rice starter Roel Garcia held Louisiana Tech at bay and left the seven-inning game in the sixth with the lead. It would not last. The combination of Garrett Zaskoda and Guy Garibay could not hold the lead. Louisiana Tech would score five runs in the final two innings to win 7-6.
SATURDAY 2 | Louisiana Tech 20 – Rice 6
After coming painfully close on Saturday afternoon the Owls were never within striking distance from a doubleheader split later that same day. Louisiana Tech scored eight runs in the second inning of Rice starter Mitchell Holcomb, who recorded just four outs. By the time Rice scored its first run in the fourth, they had already trailed 12-0.
Rice used five pitchers. All but Jared Plank allowed three or more runs. Plank’s outing was actually one of the best of the weekend by any Rice pitcher, throwing one scoreless inning with just one hit allowed. It wouldn’t be enough to slow the Louisiana Tech onslaught, though.
SUNDAY | Louisiana Tech 13 – Rice 4
Rice showed some initial resistance in the series finale. With Brandon Deskins on the mound, Rice fell behind 1-0 in the fourth inning. The bats responded immediately, manufacturing the tying run with a sacrifice fly and the go-ahead run on an RBI single. The Owls stole four bases in the inning.
The lead would prove to be short-lived. Deskins got into some trouble in the fifth with two walks of his own plus an error in the infield. Louisiana Tech would strike for two runs in that inning, piling on four more in the sixth and six more in the final two innings.