March 12, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
The physical blunders, mental miscues and overall ragged play won't undermine the confidence Rice coach Wayne Graham has in his team, although it would be nice if the Owls started playing to their potential.
For a second consecutive evening the Owls looked a step slower, a tad unfocused and a touch less willful, so for a second consecutive evening California took advantage, posting a 6-4 win at Reckling Park on Friday.
Golden Bears freshman lefthander Justin Jones (3-1) earned the accolades for pitching a complete game, scattering six hits and four walks while striking out five. But the Owls (8-7) helped his cause by stumbling about on defense, committing a pair of errors in the field, and producing enough mental mistakes to make one fact blatantly obvious.
"We're getting outplayed," Graham said. "And it's in areas where we have stressed. We're not handling the running game from the other team, which we've worked forever on. Our pitchers are not throwing good pitches with runners on and from the stretch. And in situations where they could just walk the guy, they've just grooved it (the ball)."
Three of the Bears' first four hits went for extra bases, including back-to-back doubles from California first baseman Mark Canha and Bears catcher Chadd Krist in the third inning. Rice righthander Jared Rogers (1-1) struck out the side that frame, but he also allowed a single, a base on balls and the two doubles to surrender three runs and his 1-0 lead.
A throwing error cost the Owls a run in the fourth, but only after California right fielder Jimmy Bosco held at third base on a sharp single to left by Darrel Matthews. When the throw came back into the infield and a second throw followed attempting to erase Matthews at second, Bosco scored when the errant toss skipped into shallow center field.
Another throwing error enabled Matthews to move into scoring position in the sixth, and following a bunt single, he scored on a double-play grounder that might have prevented the Bears from adding the decisive fifth run. California scored its sixth run when Rice righthander Mark Haynes uncorked a wild pitch immediately after allowing a leadoff triple to Bears second baseman Brian Guinn in the top of the eighth.
The Bears (9-3) weren't as sloppy, and with Jones inducing ground ball after ground ball, the Owls didn't muster much of a threat. Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon extended his streak of reaching base to seven consecutive plate appearances with two walks, a titanic solo home run to straightaway center field in the sixth, and an RBI single in the eighth. Junior shortstop Rick Hague drove in the other two runs with a double in the second and an opposite-field homer to right-center in the ninth, but the remainder of the lineup finished 2-for-25. The Owls were retired in order only twice, the fourth and seventh innings, but hit into inning-ending double plays in the third and fifth to erase batters that walked.
"We had so many weak outs where basically the hitter got cheated," Graham said. "When you just roll balls out there you're not having a good cut and you obviously don't have good eye contact. (Jones) is tough for an odd reason ... he hides the ball real well. His stuff plays above itself because he does hide the ball real well. That's what makes him better than his apparent stuff."
In addition to the double plays, Jones recorded 12 ground-ball outs. His poise on the mound prevented the Owls from initiating their running game, and the pace with which he worked allowed his defense to remain active. As they did in the opener, the Bears made several strong plays in the field to stifle what few opportunities the Owls managed to create.
No. 15 Rice will take its first step toward mustering a series split on Saturday afternoon when the teams resume the four-game set at 2 p.m.