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Toledo’s Rice seeing her hard work paying dividends

04/09/2017, 12:33am EDT
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Senior making most of chances


Toledo senior second baseman Chandler Rice is the school’s all-time leader in doubles and total bases. TOLEDO SPORTS INFORMATION

University of Toledo senior second baseman Chandler Rice has come a long way since she hit .400 as a freshman for the Rockets.

Aided by UT softball coach Kristen Butler and the Rockets’ coaching staff, Rice has developed a power stroke that makes her a dynamic leadoff hitter who can not only get on base with her speed or her selective approach at the plate, but she can also drive the ball for doubles or home runs.

As Rice has continued to improve as a hitter, she also is moving up in the all-time record book. She is the career leader in doubles (45) and total bases (324). She is second in slugging percentage (.515) and batting average (.350), third in RBI (101), and fifth in home runs (17).

“I’m just going up to the plate with a game plan and sticking with that game plan,” Rice said. “It’s just knowing that even if I don’t get a hit in my first or second at-bat that I’m going to figure it out. Most importantly, it’s knowing that I’m going to get on in any way, even if that is a walk or a hit-by pitch.”

Moved to the leadoff spot this season, Rice has been getting on base at the best rate of her career (.436 on-base percentage) and is in the midst of a 20-game on-base streak.

“This year, we just needed a spark plug,” Butler said of inserting Rice in the No. 1 spot. “We needed someone who could get on base for us with her speed. We love leading off the game with doubles or a home run. Chandler has been able to do that for us and kind of be our spark plug to our offense.

“The biggest thing I wanted to do this year was to get her as many at bats as possible. When you are in the leadoff position, you are going to get more at-bats.”

Butler, who is in her third season as head coach, did not recruit Rice, but in her first year at Toledo she was able to look back on the impressive stats Rice compiled in her freshman season.

As a freshman in 2014, Rice was a first-team All-MAC performer and hit .401 with 59 hits. When looking at Rice’s numbers that year, Butler could see there was room for improvement as far as power goes. Rice did not hit a home run that season.

“We really tried over the past couple of years to develop her power numbers,” Butler said. “Chandler is a strong kid. Her freshman year, she didn’t have a lot of power numbers, mostly singles. Over the last few years, we really worked on her swing to try to get her some doubles, home runs, and RBI.”

Each year since, Rice has improved her home run total, from four as a sophomore to five as a junior to eight so far this year.

Along with the increase in power, Rice also has utilized her speed more and more each year. After just two stolen bases as a freshman, she has double-digit stolen bases in each year since, including 13 this season.

Butler said Rice was used mainly as a shortstop her freshman season and struggled defensively. Butler moved Rice to second base and worked hard with her on the fundamentals of the position.

“She is a shut-down player now at second base,” Butler said. “Coming in her freshman year, she played shortstop and didn’t do great in terms of errors. When I came her sophomore year and moved her to second base, the biggest thing was we have to make routine plays. 

“That’s what we really worked on is fundamental work so that she could make the routine plays at second. She really started doing that well last year for us. Now that she is comfortable with that, she is making extreme athletic plays that not very many people could make.

“She is arguably the best defensive second baseman in the conference. She makes phenomenal athletic plays, but without a doubt makes routine plays every day.”

Rice said she is grateful for the amount of time and effort Butler and the coaching staff have put in to making her a better player.

“It’s been such a great learning experience,” Rice said of playing for Butler. “She brings so much knowledge and experience to our team. I am constantly learning something almost every day from her. I can’t thank her enough for that.”

Rice continues to climb the all-time ranks at UT and has turned into one of the most dynamic hitters in the program’s history.

But for now, she said she is focused on the team’s success as the Rockets try to make it to the Mid-American Conference tournament as they did last season.

“It’s slowly sinking in that this is my last year,” Rice said. “I’m trying to enjoy the whole process and the whole journey, but there is a slight sense of urgency that this is your last year and you want to go out with a bang.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

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Tag(s): College  Toledo