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Bragga, Owls fall short in revenge game against Longhorns

Photo by Courtesy Rice Athletic Communications | The Rice Thresher
Courtesy Rice Athletics

By Madison Buzzard     2/20/19 1:04am

A five-run third inning was enough to carry the University of Texas, Austin to victory on a soggy night at Reckling Park, as Rice baseball fell to the Longhorns 11-4.

The game was the first against Texas for Matt Bragga as skipper of the Owls. Last season, Bragga lost in the NCAA Super Regional to the Longhorns as coach for Tennessee Tech University. From there, Texas fell short in the College World Series.

Early in Tuesday’s battle, Rice appeared to stand tall against its mighty foe, ranked No. 23 in the country by D1Baseball. Sophomore starting pitcher Drake Greenwood allowed only one walk and no hits in the first two innings, and freshman left fielder Antonio Cruz singled in senior first baseman Dominic DiCaprio to nudge Rice ahead 1-0 in the second inning.

But the Longhorns would not be denied. In the third inning, two batters reached on walks before D.J. Petrinsky ripped a two-RBI triple to center field and passed for a run when sophomore shortstop Trei Cruz committed an error in a throw-out attempt. Bragga said his players need to play with more awareness.

“It’s not good enough,” Bragga said. “We have nine errors through four games. Some of [the errors] are simple plays. We had an error early in the game where there was no play to be had and we still made the throw. That’s something you teach. I’m not trying to knock our guys when I say this, but we have to learn no play, no throw. That’s something you try to teach in little league.”

Texas totaled eight runs in the third and fourth innings on seven hits and thirteen total bases. By the time UT stretched its lead to seven runs, Bragga had already expended both Greenwood and freshman pitcher Dalton Wood, so Rice’s coach turned to senior Blair Lewis, who made his first appearance of the season. Lewis survived four innings while only conceding two earned runs. Bragga said he was pleased with Lewis’ ability to “eat innings.”

Trei Cruz, whose blistering .435 batting average and .870 slugging percentage lead the Owls, played a part in Rice’s attempted comeback during the fifth inning. Junior right fielder Bradley Gneiting, Cruz and senior designated hitter Andrew Dunlap each crossed home plate to half the Longhorns’ score, 8-4. 

But the Owls were stymied offensively the rest of the game. According to Bragga, Texas pitchers took advantage of Rice’s poor plate discipline.

“We are swinging at a lot of bad pitches,” Bragga said. “We have first pitch breaking balls that are down in the dirt and we are swinging at them. If early in the game as a hitter you prove you aren’t going to swing a dirt ball, so to say, then you might not see it again. But if you show them that’s a weakness of yours, it’s all you’re gonna see the rest of the game.”

Rice committed two errors: one by Trei Cruz in the third inning and another by junior second basemen Cade Edwards in the fourth inning which loaded the bases. Furthermore, sophomore catcher Justin Collins allowed an unearned run in the ninth inning because of a passed ball. Bragga said the loss is a learning experience for several players on the team.

“There are plays that need to be made,” Bragga said. “Even from the position of whether our pitcher is backing up or not, it’s little things like that we are not doing well enough. There have been some balls [that] get by [Collins] that we can’t let get by. Those are free bases. When you don’t do those things well, you are going to give other teams opportunities and if they capitalize you are going to get beat.”

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