Baseball swept by No. 16 LA Tech
Owl pitchers had a rough go of it this weekend, as Rice baseball lost four straight games to Louisiana Tech University by a combined total of 29 runs. Ranked No. 16 nationally heading into the weekend, the Bulldogs got to Rice’s pitching staff for 6 runs on Friday night, 7 and 20 runs, respectively, in the two games on Saturday. With the Owls losing the final game of the weekend 13-4 on Sunday afternoon, their conference record dropped to 2-9-1 on the season.
Head coach Matt Bragga did not mince words after the losses.
“The bullpen’s been bad, just being honest,” Bragga said. “[We’re] walking too many people, hitting too many people, and when you give free bases away, you do not win. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing a good team or a bad team. We have been passive, and hitters have taken it to us.”
Friday’s game was a one-sided affair, as the Owls managed only four hits over the course of the game. It was a tie game through five innings, but LA Tech scratched across three runs in the sixth and followed that up with another three runs in the eighth, solidifying their 6-0 victory.
The first game of Saturday’s doubleheader was looking good for the Owls, as they took a 6-2 lead into the sixth inning, but the bullpen relinquished five runs over the final two innings, and LA Tech grabbed a 7-6 victory in seven innings.
After such a close first Saturday game, expectations were high heading into the second half of the doubleheader. Those expectations were shattered early, as Rice trailed 9-0 after just two innings. As the seventh inning came to a merciful close, the Owls were looking at a 20-6 defeat, their worst so far this season.
Saturday’s second game marked the third time this season that the Owls have given up 15 or more runs in a game - in all three instances, the games only lasted seven innings. According to Bragga, those games happen when the starting pitching gives up runs early.
“Games spiral when our starter doesn’t perform well,” Bragga said. “When that happens, [especially] in a four game series, you throw guys lower on the depth chart. Those guys are there for a reason, and when you [throw them] in games they tend to spiral more out of control than they already were. And that’s happening too much.”
The Sunday game was more of the same story. After surrendering a run in the top of the fourth, the Owls scored two in the bottom of the frame to take a 2-1 lead. Immediately, Owl pitching gave up two runs to give the lead back, and proceeded to give up another four in the top of the sixth. All told, the Owls gave up 13 runs — 10 of which were scored in the final four innings.
“We score [one], they score two; we score two, they score three. We need a shutdown inning,” Bragga said. “Go shut them down, it’s not that hard.”
According to Bragga, though, the team’s moral is, for the moment, far better than it could be.
“The team moral should be crap right now, and it’s actually not too bad,” Bragga said. “They’re coming to the yard believing [every game] that they can win. I give them a lot of credit, it would be easy to put our tail between our legs, but I don’t get that sense at all. If this continues, then maybe the tail goes between the legs. But right now that is not the case.”
Heading into next weekend, the Owls will face a formidable Old Dominion University. The Monarchs have as high-powered an offense as anyone in Conference USA; they are currently tied for first in the nation with 50 home runs as a team this season.
“That’s not what you want, especially with a struggling pitching staff,” Bragga said of facing the ODU lineup. “But the reality of it is, the league is good right now, so you better get better.”
The Owls will begin their four-game series with ODU this Friday, in Norfolk, Virginia.
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