April 11, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
NEW ORLEANS - This was the Rice lineup everyone envisioned wreaking havoc on opposing pitching staffs when the season began, the collection of veteran hitters adept at slugging foes into submission while also executing the finer points of the game at the plate and on the bases.
The Owls had shown flashes of such proficiency in recent weeks, but their weekend at Turchin Stadium featured an unrelenting onslaught of offensive prowess. Even the misstep on Friday night included a dozen base hits, so the carnage that unfolded on Sunday was hardly surprising.
With eight starters enjoying multi-hit games, Rice blasted Tulane 19-1, claiming its first road series victory and first place in Conference USA.
On the heels of a streak of 28 consecutive innings where they scored one or zero runs, the Owls (19-14, 6-3 C-USA) scored three runs in the second and fourth innings, two in the third, fifth and sixth, and seven in their final at-bat in the seventh inning to set the stage for their first run-rule victory since a 13-0 drubbing of Marshall on May 20, 2009. Everyone contributed to the demolition, and after stranding 14 base runners in a 6-5 loss in the series opener, the Owls hit with a purpose.
"The team that we put on the field the last two games was good. We can work with that team," Owls senior catcher Diego Seastrunk said. "The first (game of the series) we had our mistakes, but when these guys get the confidence they've had the past couple of days, we can go as far as Omaha and win a national championship with that team."
The top half of the Owls' order appears to have taken shape. Leadoff hitter Chad Mozingo posted his second consecutive 4-for-5 effort while Seastrunk, batting fifth and finally healthy after battling oblique and heel injuries, finished 2-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs after going 3-for-5 with four RBIs on Saturday. Whether playing left field, center field or serving as the designated hitter, sophomore Jeremy Rathjen has found a home batting third ahead of slugging sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon. Rathjen scored seven runs in the three-game series.
"We've progressed really well these past few weeks, especially getting Chad going," Seastrunk said. "He's a real aggressive hitter and sometimes he pays for that, and the same with me. We get too aggressive at times and start chasing balls, but ... everybody is swinging the bat good lately."
Added Rice coach Wayne Graham: "That's the way we feel like it ought to work. Chad has the potential to be a great leadoff man, and Diego has the potential to be a fine hitter behind Rendon. That's the lineup we want, and we think it should work. Today it did."
The Owls excelled throughout the series, producing 48 hits and 35 runs against Tulane (21-12, 5-4), which opened the weekend leading C-USA in ERA (4.18) and runs allowed (149). Rice showed a distinct edge in starting pitching, with senior righthander Jared Rogers (4-1) following excellent outings by Taylor Wall and Mike Ojala with one of his own.
Rogers held Tulane without a hit through four innings and did not surrender a run until Green Wave third baseman Rob Segedin notched a two-out infield single that scored Brandon Boudreaux in the sixth. Rogers controlled his slider and rode his fastball in on the hands of Tulane's bevy of righthanders, allowing one run on just four singles.
"The last couple of outings I had trouble locating the slider for strikes, so I wanted to do that early and establish that as a pitch," Rogers said. "I was getting ahead (in the count) and throwing everything for strikes."
Rogers, Ojala and Wall combined for an ERA of 1.45 and a WHIP of 0.80 while allowing the Green Wave to hit just .185. But splendid starting pitching deferred to an offensive attack that was so resoundingly dominant it almost made waiting for this overdue outburst worth it.
"The talent is there - there's no doubt," Graham said. "It doesn't take a lot of improvement, it just takes a little improvement from a few guys."