May 22, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
There wasn't much left for Rice coach Wayne Graham to say on Saturday afternoon that hadn't already been said on several occasions this year.
Graham and Owls pitching coach David Pierce have remaining in constant communication while developing and searching for the hot hand out of the Rice bullpen. Sometimes that pitcher was discovered with just one phone call, and sometimes it required a couple of trips to the mound to insert someone capable of getting critical outs at crucial junctures. And sometimes, success just wasn't in the cards for the Owls.
Rice junior righthander Boogie Anagnostou carried a shutout into the sixth inning, but three Rice relievers surrendered one home run apiece as the 22nd-ranked Owls fell to UAB 8-5 on Senior Day at Reckling Park.
Taylor Wall allowed a grand slam to UAB first baseman Luke Stewart, J.T Chargois a solo shot to Blazers right fielder Mikael Saway, and Abel Gonzales a three-run blast to UAB designated hitter John Frost as the Owls (35-20, 17-7 Conference USA) dropped their regular-season finale to the Blazers (28-25, 11-13) for a second consecutive season. This marks the first season since 2001 that Rice has lost at least 20 games.
"It's just guesswork," Graham said. "You've got some good arms out there. Abe throws good. (Freshman righthander Tyler) Duffey and Chargois can go up to 93 (miles an hour), and you figure Wall is going to do something in the postseason. Sometimes it seems like you have to hit the bottom to start rebounding and start really facing the issues."
Wall, who pitched splendidly in league play prior to the break for final exams, struggled mightily for his third consecutive appearance. He entered in relief of Anagnostou with the Owls leading 1-0, Saway on first base, and one out in the sixth. UAB second baseman Nick Crawford bounced the first pitch from Wall to Owls shortstop Rick Hague, but what appeared to be a tailor-made double play skipped past Hague and into the outfield. Wall then walked Blazers shortstop Jonathan Merritt before leaving a pitch out over the plate to Stewart, who bashed his second home run of the series and pushed the Blazers in front 4-1.
Since earning the win at Marshall on May 7 despite allowing season highs in hits (11) and walks (four), Wall is 0-1 with a 17.36 ERA over three appearances. He has allowed 11 hits and six walks over that span. Graham had intended for Wall to be the first pitcher out of the bullpen, but after Wall scuffled a bit, Graham inserted Chargois in the seventh.
"He's pitched some great games here, but he's not making good pitches," Graham said of Wall. "When you go in a tie ballgame and you're not making any good pitches, there's no reason to leave you in there."
That UAB hit three home runs into the wind and out to right field offered proof that Saturday was not the Owls' day. Chargois (3-2) appeared to have recorded the final out of the seventh, but the Saway fly ball kept drifting and drifting until his just barely cleared the glove of a bewildered Chad Mozingo. Gonzales, a southpaw, was summoned to face the lefthanded-hitting Stewart in the eighth, but he walked him to put two runners on for Frost, who then cleared the bases with his shot.
The Rice bullpen has been consistently inconsistent, with the hope that springs from the talent available often tempered by unsavory results.
"We've got to be confident. Every time we go out there, we have to be confident," said Owls senior catcher Diego Seastrunk, who finished 0-for-1 with four walks. "We need guys on the mound knowing they are going to throw strikes, knowing they are going to go after hitters and not trying to nibble. Coach Graham said it - we have to look at ourselves in the mirror and start making adjustments. Everybody needs to start looking within themselves and start making adjustments."
The one positive from the setback was that Anagnostou pitched exceptionally for a second consecutive outing. He allowed just one run on three hits and one walk while striking out four over 5 1/3 innings. He was experiencing some lingering tenderness with his left Achilles, but that didn't prevent Anagnostou from stifling the Blazers throughout.
"The last couple of outings have definitely been encouraging for me," Anagnostou said. "I'm going to try to keep it rolling because this is when the team is going to need the pitching staff the most - in the postseason. Hopefully I can continue doing what I've been doing."
With Graham in search of consistent efforts from his pitching staff, Anagnostou should allay some concerns as the Owls prepare for the Conference USA Baseball Championship at Cougar Field. No. 1 seed Rice will open against No. 6 seed East Carolina on Wednesday at 3 p.m.