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Thursday, February 29, 2024 — Houston, TX

Baseball sinks at Sunken Diamond, swept by No. 2 Stanford

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Diego Palos Rodriguez     2/28/23 10:50pm

The baseball team was swept by Stanford University, the No. 2 team in the country, last weekend. Despite the sweep, however, the Owls kept the first and third games of the series close, showing glimpses of what they hope to be a turnaround under second year head coach Jose Cruz Jr. According to Cruz, the opportunity to play against a top-ranked team this early in the season gave the Owls a spotlight to show what they have been building.

“We definitely wanted to compete with [Stanford] and just show that we are good enough to compete with them,” Cruz said.

The Owls opened the series with a lead, following a third inning single from graduate infielder Drew Holderbach that put them up 2-0 in game one. According to sophomore pitcher Parker Smith, who started the series opener, he wasn’t intimidated by one of the best offenses in the country.

“Not really [anything different in preparation], we have a very different approach towards that I believe,” Smith said. “Obviously I knew we were facing the number two team in the country, but we pitch to my strengths and their weaknesses.”

Smith finally conceded one run in the fourth inning, but the Owls maintained their lead until the Cardinal brought three runners home in the sixth inning to go up 4-2. Junior infielder Pierce Gallo cut the deficit at the top of the seventh inning with a home run to left-center field, but the momentum was short-lived as the Cardinal brought two runs home in the bottom of the seventh, sealing the game 6-3. Despite the loss, Cruz said the team had confidence heading into Saturday.

“We felt like we competed [well] enough to win the game, just fell a little bit short towards the end,” Cruz said. “We felt like we could stand up to anyone and have a chance to win, so we were definitely ready to go for Saturday.”

Saturday’s double-header, a result of inclement weather in the forecast for Sunday, did not begin as well for the Owls. Stanford quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning and increased their tally as the game went on. After capping off the eighth inning with five runs, taking the lead to 11-1, the Cardinal finished with another win heading into the final game of the series. The Stanford pitchers combined for fifteen strikeouts in the second game, a trend which sophomore catcher Manny Garza said was indicative of the series as a whole. 

“The biggest challenge for us this weekend was being able to click as a pitching staff and hitting staff,” Garza said. “I feel like our pitching staff did a great job keeping Stanford where we wanted them. On the offensive side, we struggled to get the big hits at the right time, myself included.”

The last game in the series saw the Owls tied up with the Cardinal for the majority of the game. Despite going down 4-2 at the end of the second inning, the Owls rallied back to even the game in the fourth inning after Garza and freshman Paul Smith scored courtesy of a bases-loaded walk and single. The game stayed even until a triple and sacrifice-fly gave Stanford three runs in the eighth inning, closing the series out with a 7-4 Cardinal win. According to Smith, despite the sweep, the Owls are still in good shape heading into the season.

“I think we understand that we are a good team,” Smith said. “We competed with Stanford and we [went really deep into the games], especially in games one and three, it just didn’t go our way.”

Cruz also explained that given his squad’s inexperience against teams like Stanford, the series showed the Owls’ potential.

“We have a little bit of a rubber on the road and understand that we were just this close to beating one of the top teams in the nation,” Cruz said. “We’re still very young when it comes to playing [Stanford’s style of baseball] and we’re going to get some of that coming up this weekend, as well.”

The Owls head north to Huntsville on Wednesday to face Sam Houston State University, before returning to Houston for the three-game Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park over the weekend.

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