After losing two out of three games in a Conference USA series against Florida International University this past weekend, the Rice baseball team has now lost nine of its last 10 games and has a 7-19 record for the season. The Owls got swept three games to none in their first conference series of the season against Old Dominion University, and they now have a 1-5 conference record after this weekend’s results. Despite the early troubles, junior infielder and pitcher Dane Myers said he thinks the team can turn things around after a lackluster start to the season.
“The balls just haven’t been falling our way pretty much all year and I feel like it has to turn around at some point,” Myers said. “As long as we keep playing hard and competing I feel like that will happen.”
In the early part of the season, Rice had several games against difficult opponents. Its nonconference schedule consisted of teams such as the University of Texas, Southeastern Louisiana University and Stanford University, which are all teams with winning records and are near the top of their conferences. While the tough schedule certainly doesn’t help Rice’s record, Myers said he thinks it helps the team grow and improve.
“Playing a tough schedule like we have, we get to measure ourselves up with the best,” Myers said. “[Playing an easy schedule] looks good on paper but at the end of the season it’s not going to help that much. Playing those good teams in the long run I think helps a lot.”
One of the bright spots in the rough stretch for the Owls has been the emergence of first baseman Darryn Sheppard’s hitting. In the series against Florida International, Sheppard hit seven for 11, including a grand slam in the final game, and he is now one of five Owls hitting with a .300 or better batting average for the season. Sheppard said even though the team hasn’t had the start they hoped for, they still hold themselves to high standards.
“[The expectations] are definitely the same,” Sheppard said. “We expect to win. That’s what this program prides itself on. I think we can easily come back from this, we just have to stay confident up there and take it one pitch at a time, one at bat at a time, one game at a time.”
Sophomore catcher Dominic DiCaprio has continued his hot start, as he leads the Owls in batting average with a .381 average, hits with 32 and RBIs with 22. Myers and sophomore shortstop Ford Proctor have also been hitting well this season, as they hold the second and third highest batting averages on the team with .330 and .323 averages respectively.
Head coach Wayne Graham said he knows his players have the capability to perform better than their record shows.
“We do have some talent and some of it’s not coming around quite as quick as we hoped,” Graham said. “We still have some hitting talent and the defense seems to be solidified.”
On the defensive side, freshman Matt Canterino and sophomore Zach Esquivel have been the Owls’ two best starting pitchers thus far. Canterino leads the team with a 2.94 earned run average and 46 strikeouts, and Esquivel is second in both categories with a 2.97 earned run average and 27 strikeouts. Fielding errors still seem to be a problem for the Rice, as their 41 errors have led to 36 unearned runs on the season.
The Owls next conference series takes place this weekend. Rice will be playing an away series against a Florida Atlantic University team that has a 5-1 conference record on the season.