HOUSTON, TX- Coming into the season, there were understandable questions about the Rice Owls. They were turning over a pretty large percentage of their top offensive contributors from last season, and a sizable contingent of pitchers departed as well.
The 2016 Owls were not going to be a team devoid of talent and reasons for optimism, though, as they had several players with some experience who looked poised to take on a larger role.
Perhaps foremost among those players was Dane Myers. The sophomore from nearby Katy, Texas, one of the most dynamic athletes on the roster, was slated to play third base every day and provide some punch in the middle of the order, along with holding down a role in the bullpen.
Through the first part of the season, Myers was up and down, as were the Owls as a whole. On Saturday, though, as Rice clinched their fourth consecutive winning weekend, Myers showed the type of offensive ability that gave the Rice faithful hope that 2016 wouldn’t be a step back for the team.
After Rice had fallen behind 2-0 in the top of the second inning, Myers stepped to the plate with one out in the bottom half of the frame and lifted a home run over the left field wall for not only his first home run of the season, but the first home run of his Rice career. For a team with only seven home runs collectively, three of those from one player, Andrew Dunlap, that had to be a welcome sight.
As much as a lack of power has been a concern for the Rice lineup, so has a lack of crooked-number innings. Myers didn’t have to wait long to help remedy that issue as well. When his spot came up again in the third inning, three Rice runs had already scored, but with runners on second and third and one out, Myers flew out to deep center field, bringing home the fourth run of the inning and extending his team’s lead to 5-2.
When he came up again in the fifth inning, he had a chance to do it again with the bases loaded and one out, and he did his part, flying out deep to center field once again. His play for yet another RBI was foiled, however, when Ryan Chandler was tagged out trying to tag up and head to third before Charlie Warren could cross the plate after tagging up from third base.
Myers credits his success to heading to the plate and swinging free and easy.
“I’m just trying to be aggressive in the zone and trying to get a good pitch to hit,” he said. “If I saw it (a good pitch), pick it up, just react and hit it as best as I could.”
Myers emerging as a serious threat in the Rice order would be a boon for their offensive attack, what with Charlie Warren, Ryan Chandler, and Ford Proctor also swinging the bat well.
Speaking of Warren, he put together a 4-for-4 day on Saturday after collecting a hit and two runs scored on Friday and going 4-for-5 this past Tuesday in the team’s 7-4 win over crosstown rival Houston.
These performances came in support of senior lefty Blake Fox, who gave the team his longest outing of the season. He went 7.2 innings, giving up four hits and two runs (one earned) with three walks and six strikeouts. Not surprisingly given how well he has thrown over the last several weeks, Fox feels like he’s getting stronger every time out.
“I do feel like I’ve been getting stronger and stronger,” Fox said. “Today was a little different. I definitely didn’t have my good stuff in the beginning, didn’t have my good control. Finally, it just took me taking a deep breath and just saying ‘Okay, I’ve got to pitch.’ My changeup was working real well at the end and I just went out there and tried to give it my all and be aggressive in the strike zone.”
After a 3-5 start to the season, Rice has been playing better baseball of late, having gone 10-4 since then. Fox pointed to the team maturing and sorting out roles as a reason for the turnaround.
“We were definitely young in the beginning and we were trying to figure out who were going to be our guys for us,” he said. “Now that everybody is kind of figuring out their roles, everything is starting to click a little bit more. We still have some things we need to iron out, like always, but those things are becoming less and less. That day when everything just clicks is going to be a great one.”
With the way the Owls have been playing over the last four weeks, it looks like that day might be just around the corner.