Rice Baseball will have a sour taste in its mouth after a tough 2023 campaign, forced to reckon with a challenging season as they depart C-USA.
Watching Florida Atlantic celebrate on their own field was not quite how Rice baseball had envisioned watching their 2023 season come to a close. Even after battling well into the final weekend to earn the final spot in the Conference USA Tournament, an appearance without any wins seemed a hollow achievement when compared to preseason hopes.
“Obviously, we have some work to do,” head coach Jose Cruz Jr. said in the moments following the Owls’ final game of the year. “I’m already kind of formulating a plan for the fall and a plan to be back here and do a little more damage.”
Getting back to the postseason is a must, even with the leap to the American conference, which will officially take place this offseason. But before the Owls get there, they’ll be forced to reckon with a year of frustrations.
In addition to the more crushing defeats, Rice baseball was 5-11 in one-run games. They were 3-7 when tied after seven innings. Beyond just bad luck, when things were bad, they were really bad. The Owls’ longest winning streak of the season was three games. Their longest losing streak, nine games, tied the modern program record and was the longest of any Rice team since 1987.
Rice was picked to finish eighth in the preseason conference polls and earned the eighth seed in the conference tournament. In some respects, the season was on par with the hand they’d been dealt. The next objective for Cruz Jr. and company is to find a way to take that next step. Should the roster survive excess attrition from the draft and the transfer portal, there’s reason to keep the faith.
“We do have a lot of pieces. We will be an older team and we’ll have a little more experience now that we know what it’s like,” Cruz Jr. said. “What this tournament is like and the intensity you need to have in order to succeed here.”
Freshman standout Ben Royo will be back, as will sophomore ace Parker Smith. Veterans and core players like Pierce Gallo, Connor Walsh, Jack Riedel, Guy Garibay, Manny Garza, Justin Long and Matthew Linskey all have eligibility remaining, too. And that’s not an exhaustive list.
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Add in the right pieces from the incoming recruiting class and another transfer or too and the Owls have the makings of a roster that should be more experienced and talented than the 2023 squad was. Ultimately, they’ll have to prove it on the field.
That can’t happen until next February, though. For now, Rice baseball and Jose Cruz Jr. have to continue to press what they believe to be the right buttons and continue to build a team that can compete night in and night out. It’ll be another busy offseason on South Main once again.
“All in all, I’m pretty optimistic for the future,” Cruz Jr. said. “We’re getting better. We’re getting better.”
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