As a serious baseball fanatic, living in Houston has been fortunate in one way: I've gotten to follow the Rice Owls, one of the best teams in college ball. I started going to games midway through last season and this season I bought season tickets. Now, you have to understand, in junior high/high school I was one of the youngest active members of SABR (the "saber" in "sabermetrics"), and my old bedroom is still full of my baseball library (probably to my father's chagrin. But where else can I put it?).
This 2008 season has featured a slow start, but the end has definitely made up for it. Last weekend saw Rice go 3-0 in the regional, beating Texas 7-4 on Sunday night in a game that featured a rare ejection (after some truly bad calls by the umpire against Rice).
The super regional this weekend against Texas A&M was two compelling games, in front of excited sellout crowds (about 60 percent of the crowd was probably for A&M). On Saturday night, A&M grabbed an early lead, but Rice came back, with #9 hitter Jordan Dodson--who hit .167 during the regular season, had no at bats in the regional, and went undrafted as a senior--going a stunning 3-for-3 with 4 RBI (this led to "Jordan Dodson" chants all night long on Sunday). Closer Cole St. Clair entered in the fifth, and took Rice the rest of the way, 4 1/3 innings, giving up only two hits and one run, as Rice won 9-6.
On Sunday I managed to bring a camera, so I will throw in some pictures.
The starting lineups posted on the wall at Reckling Park.
The lineups are introduced.
Aggie fans start to pack the left-field hill; they would fill it by the 2nd inning.
A&M again took an early lead in the bottom of the third, scoring two runs off Mike Ojala. (Ojala's most notable moment was probably sticking up his glove in the 3rd inning to catch a quick throw from catcher Adam Zornes... which was actually supposed to go to second base. Ojala knocked the ball off line and the runner was safe.)
In the top of the fourth, the Owls took advantage of a fielding error; freshman shortstop Rick Hague then hit a two-run double and tied up the game. (This would be a good time to mention that this win was thanks to Hague and the relief pitchers, Bryan Price and Bobby Bell; Hague was 3-for-4 with 4 RBI and shone in the field, and the two pitchers went 4 1/3 innings, giving up one hit and no runs).
This led to a near-disastrous bottom of the 4th. Ojala retired only one batter (and that on a sacrifice bunt), leaving with runners on first and third, and a run already in, to make the game 3-2 for A&M. Usual starter Matt Langwell entered, giving up a walk and a double before striking out a hitter, and then giving way to lefty Matt Evers. Evers then walked A&M's cleanup hitter, Luke Anders. This put the bases loaded, with two outs, and three runs already home. Then, a strange call... Kyle Colligan tried to steal home from third base. Catcher Adam Zornes simply tagged him out (see the Chronicle for a picture). A&M did not score after running out of the 4th.
Rice remained down, 5-2, until scoring two in the top of the 6th (again taking advantage of an A&M fielding miscue). With the A&M lead now only one run, the bottom of the 6th was not Diego Seastrunk's finest hour. The Rice 3B was unable to stop a sharp grounder into left for a leadoff single; the next hit bounced off his glove, and while he got it to second for one out, could have been a double play. Rick Hague made a nice play for the inning's second out, but the next batter hit another grounder to Seastrunk, whose throw was offline (for his only official error) and put runners on first and third. Luckily, Hague made another nice play to end the inning and the game remained 5-4.
The top of the 8th was the next big event. Aaron Luna led off with a walk, then was thrown out by a laughable margin trying to steal second. Rick Hague's weak chopper to the left side went for an infield single, but Chad Mozingo flied out, and suddenly there were two outs with a runner on first. Up came catcher Adam Zornes--while he remains the team's home-run leader, his slump had been ongoing since the second part of the regular season. This time, though, Zornes hit a line drive to left field that cleared the fence and gave Rice a 6-5 lead. The Owls would take this lead home, as Price and Bell didn't let A&M threaten.
Rice players mob Adam Zornes at the plate after his home run put the Owls ahead, 6-5.
The final scoreboard.
Rice players celebrate after the Comerota-Hague-Padron double play ends the game.
Sophomore 2B Jimmy Comerota ("Jimmy Baseball") at the screen after the game.
One of the game's stars, freshman SS Rick Hague, after the game.
Coach Wayne Graham (#37) and C Adam Zornes (below him) after the game.
It will be sad to say goodbye to the Rice Owls, so instead I will wish them good luck in Omaha, and I hope I will be back in Houston someday to see them play again!