Baseball upsets Tech, bats go silent against A&M and TCU
The Rice baseball team got a statement win on a big stage, beating No. 24 Texas Tech University 3-2 on Friday to open the Shriners’ College Classic at Minute Maid Park. But the rest of the weekend didn’t go as planned, and the Owls dropped games to No. 15 Texas A&M University and No. 10 Texas Christian University in lopsided fashion, bringing their record to 4-7.
Rice sent out Parker Smith, their go-to Friday starter, to open the weekend against Texas Tech. Smith shut down the Red Raiders’ offense almost entirely, allowing just three hits in six innings. His last inning was his trickiest, with a two-out hit and walk giving the Red Raiders two baserunners, but Smith forced a line-out to left to keep his shutout intact. According to associate head coach Paul Janish, who had stepped in with head coach Jose Cruz Jr. dealing with a personal matter, Smith thrives in big moments.
“He’s a jerk in the best way,” Janish said. “He loves being in that spotlight. He loves to compete.”
The Owls offense didn’t fare much better than Tech’s through three innings, although a walk, error and an infield single loaded the bases without the Owls hitting the ball out of the infield. They finally broke through in the fourth, when junior infielder/outfielder Connor Walsh hit a two-run home run into the empty right field stands.
After another two scoreless frames from Rice’s offense, junior pitcher Matthew Linskey replaced Smith in the seventh. Linskey didn’t allow a hit, but walked three of the four Tech batters he faced to load the bases before being replaced by junior pitcher Justin Long. A wild pitch scored one runner while a sacrifice-fly scored another, but Long got out of the inning with the game tied at 2-2.
The game wasn’t tied for long though. Rice’s second batter in the seventh, junior infielder Jack Riedel swung at the first pitch, driving the ball over the exact same part of the right field wall that Walsh had cleared three innings earlier. According to Riedel, after striking out twice earlier in the game, he wasn’t looking to swing at the first pitch.
“He just threw me a good pitch to hit, and [I] just put a good swing on it,” Riedel said.
In the ninth, Long allowed a double off the top wall, but settled down with two strikeouts that sealed the 3-2 upset for Rice.
Friday’s game wasn’t so lucky for the Owls. With sophomore pitcher Mauricio Rodriguez on the mound and the roof open once again, the Owls switched dugouts to take on the No. 15 Aggies. After a double-play erased Rice’s only baserunner in the first, an error by junior infielder Pierce Gallo put the Aggies’ leadoff hitter Tab Tracy on base. The next batter, shortstop Hunter Haas, doubled Tracy home. A wild pitch scored Haas and an RBI triple made the lead 3-0. Rice’s first two batters reached base in the second, but three straight strikeouts ended the threat.
Four batters into the bottom half of the inning, with the deficit increased to four and two runners on, Cruz, who returned on Saturday, pulled Rodriguez. His replacement, freshman and College Station native Ryland Urbanczyk, didn’t fare much better. At one point, two consecutive four-pitch walks brought chants of “ball eight” from the Aggie-heavy crowd. The chants stopped at “ball nine,” but only after four more runners had crossed the plate. Cruz said that the Owls, who have given up a combined 42 runs in four Saturday games so far, need to find a consistent second starter behind Smith.
“Right now it’s an open door,” Cruz said. “We haven’t fared very well on Saturdays for whatever reason, [we’re] trying to figure that out.”
The Aggies added three more runs in the third and two in the fourth, before Rice’s defense finally found its groove. Meanwhile, Rice’s offense couldn’t chip away at the deficit despite five hits through six innings. The Owls finally got on the board on a Riedel double in the seventh. The game was called after seven innings with A&M up 13-1.
Sunday’s game against the Horned Frogs got off to a better start for Rice with a Riedel single, but a double-play stopped them from striking first. Freshman pitcher Tom Vincent allowed a leadoff double, but settled down to escape the inning unscathed. According to Cruz, Vincent got the nod because he matched up well with TCU’s lineup.
“We were just thinking he was going to be a left-handed spot guy,” Cruz said. “But he’s showing he could do something.”
The Horned Frogs struck first, when outfielder Luke Boyers turned Vincent’s 2-2 pitch into a three-run homerun. After a 1-2-3 Rice inning, Vincient was replaced by junior Christian Cienfuegos, who allowed a homerun to his second batter. Cienfuegos made way for Linksey, who settled the defense down, but with the Owls’ offense struggling, the 4-0 deficit would prove too much.
The closest Rice would get to scoring came in the fifth inning, when freshman outfielder Christian Salazar hit a two-out double to left, and tried to advance home on an error on the next at-bat. But Salazar was thrown out by at least ten feet and Rice didn’t sniff the scoreboard again all day.According to Cruz, the Owls' struggles to bring baserunners home stems from their tendency to put added pressure on themselves.
“We just got to make sure that we're understanding that the pressure is on the pitcher in that situation, not you,” Cruz said. “I think some of the guys want to do so well that they put a little extra pressure on themselves when they shouldn't.”
With TCU comfortably ahead, they tacked on a run in the fifth, and another two in the eighth, cruising to a 7-0 win.
The Owls return home to take on the Aggies once again on Wednesday before a weekend series against Houston Christian University, led by former Owl Lance Berkman.
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