April 14, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
When one's reputation has been burnished by defensive might, admirable pluck and selfless adherence to the things that make a team thrive, nights like Wednesday are that much more easy to appreciate.
For Rice sluggers Anthony Rendon and Jeremy Rathjen, multi-RBI games are either old hat or a suddenly frequent occurrence. For Owls senior first baseman Jimmy Comerota, six-RBI nights come along once in a career, so when they actually unfold, the event is something to cherish.
With his three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning, Comerota capped a career-best night at the plate and put the final touches on the Owls' 23-1 dismantling of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Reckling Park.
Eight of the nine starters recorded multi-hit games by the fourth inning, with Comerota finishing 3-for-3 along with those career-high six RBIs. Rendon and Rathjen both homered and finished a combined 6-for-8 with nine RBIs as the Owls (21-14) continued their torrid hitting since junior right fielder Chad Mozingo was inserted atop the batting order.
"There's no doubt that when Coach (Wayne Graham) made that move we've been clicking on all cylinders since then," Comerota said. "It's hard to deny that. If Mozingo feels comfortable there that's great for us."
In the 12 games since Mozingo slid into the leadoff slot in the batting order, the Owls have hit .371 with an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.019. Appropriately, Mozingo leads the regulars in batting (.472), ranks second in on-base percentage (.547) and fifth in slugging (.604), but the remainder of the lineup appears to have caught fire as well.
Comerota is batting .450 (18-for-40) with an OPS of 1.206 during that stretch while Rathjen (.440/.500/.760) and Rendon (.396/.500/.708) have been equally scorching. Each played a significant role in the shellacking of the Islanders (13-21), as Rathjen keyed the Owls' seven-run first inning with hits three-run homer off Texas A&M-Corpus Christi starter Roy Ferdin (2-3), and Rendon capped their three-run fourth with his three-run homer off Ian Campbell. When Comerota launched a Brett Gibson offering deep into the night sky in the sixth, it seemed both gratuitous and apropos given the sudden emergence of the Rice offense.
"We're developing our offense like we should be," said Rendon, who was 4-for-5 with four runs and four RBIs, including his team-leading 13th dinger. "Coming into the season we had one of the most potent offenses in the country, and we have to prove that this weekend against UCF. They're in the race right behind us in Conference USA, so hopefully this is a confidence booster for us that we can get the job done in Florida."
After Rendon gave the Owls a 20-1 lead with his home run, Graham emptied his bench. The pitchers he opted to use in relief of starter Anthony Fazio were not second-tier options, however, with both junior lefthander Doug Simmons and freshman righthander Tyler Duffey getting in some much-needed work in advance of the aforementioned series with UCF. Both will play vital roles if the Owls are to come away with a series win, and both were relatively sharp against the Islanders.
Simmons ran his fastball to the plate between 88 and 90 miles an hour while working a scoreless sixth inning. Duffey dialed his heater up to 93 while breezing through the top of the seventh. Freshman righthander J.T. Chargois (1-0) also worked a scoreless frame, but he might not be prepared to make a critical impact as early as this weekend in Orlando.
"We needed to get Simmons in gear, and (with) Duffey we're trying a new breaking ball with him and it looked real good," Graham said. "Duffey looked good, and we've got to have Simmons this weekend."
The Owls will need Comerota to provide his usual brand of exceptional defense and infectious enthusiasm against the Knights, but his lightning-laden bat will be more than welcome should it continue to flex at the bottom of the batting order. Graham harkened back to a fundamental belief of relaxing at the plate and throwing the bat head at the ball, two skills Comerota has displayed with aplomb over the past dozen games.
Comerota aims to ride this wave of production as long as possible. On Wednesday night, he was deserving of the game ball in his clutches.
"It is really exciting, especially when we were joking around in the dugout about how I was a redshirt sophomore before I got one RBI," Comerota said. "Anytime you have nights like this it's something special. I bet my mom and dad were really, really happy when they saw (the home run) go out."