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Monday, June 17, 2024 — Houston, TX

Baseball drops fireworks-filled opening series to Louisiana

Francesca Nemati / Thresher

By Prayag Gordy     2/21/23 11:55pm

Rice baseball lost their first two games against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette last weekend, winning the third to avoid the sweep. Rice was defeated 5-4 on Friday and 11-2 on Saturday, then overcame an early deficit to beat the Ragin’ Cajuns 12-8 Sunday afternoon.

“It’s definitely a team that is hungry to win,” head coach Jose Cruz Jr., who is starting his second year at Rice, said. “They want to be successful.”

Rice jumped out to an early lead Friday night behind a first-inning RBI double from catcher Manny Garza. In the top of the third, with Cajuns fans chanting “overrated,” Rice starting pitcher Parker Smith gave up three runs on two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly. Garza picked a runner off at second to limit the damage, one of the three runners he threw out on the bases that night.

Smith settled in after that, allowing only those three runs in six innings of work and departing with a 4-3 lead. Graduate transfer Krishna Raj struck out the side in the first inning of his Rice debut, but gave up the lead with a decisive two-run home run by Louisiana outfielder Heath Hood in the eighth.

After Rice left the bases loaded to end the game, the Owls turned to the stands for the “Rice Honor,” and fans trickled out of the stadium as post-game fireworks launched into the cold night.

Louisiana jumped on Rice starter junior Justin Long early Saturday, tagging him with six runs (five earned) in the first two innings. Sophomore pitcher Mauricio Rodriguez gave up one run in 2.1 innings in his Rice debut, and freshman Ryland Urbanczyk allowed two runs in his three inning debut.

The Ragin’ Cajuns tacked on five more runs over the evening, holding Rice to an RBI single and an RBI groundout in the sixth and the ninth. The 11-2 loss was the eleventh straight to Louisiana.

The Owls’ starting pitching struggled again in Sunday’s game. Sophomore J.D. McCracken walked five, hit one batter and recorded only four outs in his first appearance for Rice. He was charged with five earned runs, all in the second.

“We’ve seen J.D. McCracken throw, so we know he’s gonna give better innings and a better showing for sure,” Cruz said. “[Gotta] get the jitters out of the way.”

Rice bounced back with three runs in the bottom of the second. According to graduate infielder Drew Holderbach, that inning kept the Owls alive.

“That’s a big bounce back that inning, we got that three runs back there,” Holderbach said. “We knew once we got that first one, we could keep it going and we could fight with them.”

Junior reliever Matthew Linskey took the mound in the fourth with a runner on. After a single and a stolen base placed runners on second and third, Linskey struck out the next three batters to end the inning.

“He [was] in a tight spot, was able to punch some guys out with runners at third and second,” Cruz said. “That was extremely crucial for us, it kept us in the game.”

Linskey held the Cajuns scoreless through the sixth, then left with two runners on base, both of whom later scored. He finished the game with eight strikeouts.

“We won the game because he came in when he did, he was able to just shut the door,” Cruz added.

Rice tacked on two runs in the fourth to tie the game, then took the lead on a Holderbach home run in the fifth.

Louisiana tied the game in the top of the seventh, but Rice regained the lead in the bottom half. Four insurance runs in the eighth solidified an Owl victory, as pitcher Blake Brogdon entered in relief and put an end to a Cajun rally in the top of the ninth. Brogdon made his first appearance on the mound since an injury in February 2022.

“This is the first time I’ve pitched in a year to date since I got hurt at Texas last year,” Brogdon said. “It was just an amazing feeling to get out there again, to get the job done for the team.”

Cruz complimented his players’ eagerness to improve on the “details” of the game. He said the Owls have room to improve as the season progresses.

“We're just growing as a team. We're starting to get together,” Cruz said. “I don't think we've we haven't hit everything full steam yet, but we have bits and pieces that are showing up and growing. Let's see what happens.”

The Owls will host Sam Houston State tonight at 6:30 p.m., before traveling to Palo Alto for a three-game series against Stanford University.

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