The Rice baseball team kicked off the 2017 season with a four game road series against the University of Texas, Austin.. After a hard-fought series, the two teams came away with two wins apiece and started the season 2-2.
The first game took place on Friday and featured Owls’ junior right-handed pitcher Dane Myers starting at pitcher and batting fourth in the lineup. Rice scored its first two runs of the season in the sixth inning on a two-RBI double from sophomore catcher Dominic DiCaprio. After the Longhorns tied the game in the bottom of the inning, the score was 2-2.
The score remained level until the ninth inning when senior infielder Darryn Sheppard hit a soft ground ball that scored Myers from third base. This proved to be the difference in the game, as sophomore pitchers Evan Kravetz and Zach Esquivel closed out the bottom of the ninth without letting a runner reach base. Overall, Myers pitched six innings and gave up two earned runs, while Kravetz picked up the win after coming on in relief.
According to Myers, getting the first win against a tough Texas team made the experience even better.
“The first win of the season is always a huge one but to get it at UT in their home field, Disch Falk Field, that just made it extra sweet,” Myers said. “The atmosphere over there was great and they had 6,000-plus there that first night and [were] packed out stadium all weekend.”
The series continued on Saturday with a doubleheader consisting of a seven-inning game followed by a nine-inning game. The day did not go well for Rice. In the first game, Texas took a 5-1 lead going into the last inning. Rice fought back, scoring three runs in the top of the seventh to bring it to a one run ball game. With two outs, however, senior outfielder Dayne Wunderlich was thrown out at home plate to end the game. That was the final out in a 5-4 loss for the Owls. The loss was reminiscent of Rice’s conference championship loss to the University of Southern Mississippi last season, when the Owls lost the title game on a tag at home plate.
The Longhorns carried the momentum from this victory into the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. Rice loaded the bases in the top of the first but was only able to produce one run in the inning. Texas then scored six unanswered runs, capped off by a home run in the seventh inning which contributed to a 6-1 defeat for Rice. Freshman pitcher Matt Canterino took the loss in his first college action, going three innings and allowing four runs.
The last game of the series took place at noon on Sunday, as Rice looked to even the series at two games a piece. The game was tied at 1-1 when the Owls’ lineup exploded for five runs in the top of the sixth. DiCaprio and Gneiting batted in two runs each with a pair of doubles and Lammons followed with an RBI single. In the ninth inning, Gneiting added another RBI to his day with a single that put the finishing touches on a 7-1 victory for Rice. Starting pitcher Esquivel picked up the win for the Owls, throwing six innings and only giving up one earned run while striking out five batters.
Gneiting, who was getting the start at second base over injured junior Tristan Gray, said preparation during the offseason was key to his productive weekend.
“It comes from just playing a ton of intrasquad games in the fall and spring,” Gneiting said. “Getting to see that high end DI baseball pitching helped me focus in and realize [that] I had done it before and realized that I could be calm and collected at the plate.”
After getting a four-game series under their belt, DiCaprio said the team was confident heading into the next matchup.
“I think it’s important to get our team out there and compete like we did at UT and play error-free baseball,” DiCaprio said. “If we can do that and execute I think we can beat anybody in the country.”
Rice's next game is their home opener on Tuesday night at Reckling Park. The Owls will look to improve on their 2-2 record when they face off against Dallas Baptist University, which is currently ranked No. 28 in the country according to College Baseball 360.