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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 — Houston, TX

Baseball drops series to FAU despite Smith shutout

Photo courtesy Rice Athletics

By Cadan Hanson     4/4/23 9:35pm

While the Florida Atlantic University men’s basketball team came to Houston for the Men’s Final Four, the Rice baseball team swapped places with them for a weekend series in Boca Raton. Despite shutting out FAU in the first game, Rice dropped the next two games by a combined score of 24-11, losing the series and bringing their season record to 14-14. 

On Friday, sophomore pitcher Parker Smith had a career night on the mound, pitching 8.2 shutout innings, getting pulled before the last out of the night, ending his evening one pitch away from a complete game. Smith threw 114 pitches, 81 of them strikes, en route to a career high nine strikeouts which helped him win Conference USA Pitcher of the Week. Head coach Jose Cruz Jr. praised his pitcher for the game one performance.

“[Smith] has definitely been a bonafide ace,” Cruz said. “He’s been a guy who’s wanted the ball and wanted to be the Friday night guy since he was a freshman here. And so I told him just keep working hard and I’ll give you the opportunity. And sure enough, he has done everything we’ve asked and, and he competes.”

Smith’s gem came at the perfect time, as the Owls only managed one run on the night. Junior outfielder Connor Walsh gave the Owls the lead in the sixth inning with a solo home run over the opposite field wall, his seventh of the year. According to Cruz, Walsh’s ability to make adjustments is special. 

“The strike zone was tough that day and him being able to make adjustments and hit a clutch homer off a really good pitcher … on a tough wind day, was great,” Cruz said.

On Saturday, the Owls took the lead in the sixth inning with a two-run home run by sophomore catcher Manny Garza and a two-RBI double from senior infielder Drew Holderbach. But a four-run surge by FAU in the very next inning put the game away. Cruz said that he liked how the team was playing up until the seventh, when the game was put out of reach.

“The second day was a little tougher,” Cruz said. “I think [sophomore pitcher J.D.] McCracken started on the [mound] very well. I thought he pitched fairly well [for] four innings and then kind of was a little bit all over the place in the fifth inning. Our guys kept battling … and really, there was just one inning that we couldn’t put it together. We thought we had a matchup that we could handle and we thought we had it put together, but it just did not work out.”

On Sunday,  Rice’s pitching was much different than Friday’s win, with FAU putting up 14 runs against six different pitchers. The 14-4 loss overshadowed a four-hit effort by junior infielder Pierce Gallo, who leads the team with a 0.343 batting average. According to Cruz, the early deficit hamstrung the Owls on Sunday.

“On Sunday, the pitching was a little bit all over the place and the game just got out of hand early,” Cruz said. “And as much as we tried to claw back, it just wasn’t in the cards that day.”

Despite losing the series, Cruz said that the Owls are in a much better place than they were last year, after stealing a game on the road against a top-four team in the conference.

“Our team has really been extremely competitive on both sides of the field from a year ago,” Cruz said. “Defensively, we’re in a way better place right now, even though we could be better. Offensively, our team is starting to get together and be able to grind out bats and make innings last and be able to have better beginnings. So they’re starting to come together.”

Rice, standing at fifth in the conference with a 5-4 C-USA record, returns home this weekend to take on Louisiana Tech University. The Owls will look to end their seven-game losing streak against the Bulldogs.

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