Rice baseball stole an opening win, but couldn’t sustain the momentum, dropping a home series to a ranked Southern Miss team over the weekend.
THREE FOR THE ROAD | Rice baseball loses series 3-1
1. Nine runs are not enough
The six-run opener was a positive start for the week, but it in itself was only a hair better than the conference average. C-USA schools average 5.93 runs per game. At the conclusion of this weekend’s games, Rice baseball averages 5.07 runs per game. Had Rice won 2-0 instead of 6-0 on Friday, that number would have fallen below five runs per game.
The best offenses in Conference USA score eight runs an outing. Only three average worse than five runs, but only one, Marshall, is below Rice in the overall standings. The bats aren’t doing enough, and the pitching staff isn’t strong enough to bail them out more often than a night or two on any given weekend.
2. There’s no one else to call upon
Micah Davis has served as an “opener” in three consecutive series. He’s walked multiple batters twice and allowed at least one run twice. Prior to those outings, he’s had a couple of strong relief appearances, but it hasn’t worked out well so far with him as the first man on the bump.
But it would be a mistake to put the weight of the Owls’ pitching struggles on his shoulders. He’s there because of failures among other members of the rotation. Will West made his first appearance of the season in the Friday night rout. That came after more familiar faces like Alex DeLeon and Drake Greenwood had allowed things to get out of hand.
The pitching staff many had hoped would be deep enough to weather long weeks in Conference USA play hasn’t lived up to those expectations. Outside of Brandon Deskins, Blake Brogdon and a few others, it’s become a dicey proposition.
3. It’s now or never for any sort of postseason
The top three teams in each division clinch a spot in the conference tournament with two additional spots given out to the best remaining teams by winning percentage. Sitting at six wins, Rice is four games behind Middle Tennessee for the eighth spot in the tournament. That’s a ton of room to make up in two weeks.
Rice draws UAB next. The Blazers are just above the Owls in the West standings. Should Rice win the series (or even sweep), they’d have something to play for on the final weekend of the regular season against Charlotte. Middle Tennessee, who Rice is chasing, visit Southern Miss the weekend before closing at home against FIU. It’s a tall order, but if Rice can win this weekend series, there’s a chance.
THE PLAY BY PLAY
FRIDAY 1 | Rice – Southern Miss
Things couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for Rice in the first half of the weather-induced Friday doubleheader. The Owls struck first, taking the lead in the first inning on an RBI single from Bradley Gneiting and extending it with an RBI single from Will Karp shortly after.
Up 2-0, Mitchell Holcomb cruised through four innings. With two men on in the fifth, Deskins entered and induced a pop-up to end the threat. A three-run fifth inning and an insurance run courtesy of a Cade Edwards sixth-inning triple helped Rice close out the opener with relative ease.
FRIDAY 2 | Southern Miss 12 – Rice 1
After being silenced in the first game, the Southern Miss bats woke up in a hurry for the Friday nightcap. The Golden Eagles scored two in the first inning, four in the second and two more in the third. The Rice pitching trio of Davis, DeLeon and Greenwood had no answers, and before Greenwood was replaced to start the fourth inning, Rice was already in an insurmountable hole.
Rice would out-hit Southern Miss 10-0, only failing to reach base in one of the seven innings. It wouldn’t matter as the Owls hit safely in 2-of-10 situations with runners in scoring position. Guy Garibay drove in the only Rice run.
SATURDAY | Southern Miss 10 – Rice 1
Roel Garcia battled through five innings on Saturday, allowing five runs on seven hits. Southern Miss just kept putting the ball in play whereas the Rice bats did not hold up their side of the bargain. While Garcia labored, the Rice offense was silent, collecting just two hits while he was on the mound.
Trailing 5-0 at the time of Garcia’s exit, the bullpen quickly allowed the lead to double over the next three innings in what felt like a carbon copy of the previous evening’s blowout loss.
SUNDAY | Southern Miss 8 – Rice 1
Garibay drew the start on Sunday and after sending the first three Golden Eagles down in the first inning, ran into trouble in the second. Southern Miss struck for four runs in the frame, adding two more in the third and forcing Garibay to exit in favor of Brogdon, who navigated 4.2 innings reasonably well, striking out five and allowing two runs.
A leadoff home run from Austin Bulman in the second was all the offense could muster. Their six hits were the fewest in any game of the series.