HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – The Rice Owls are ranked 13th in the nation by Baseball America and they have certainly earned their ranking. So far this season they are 24-11 overall, 15-5 at Reckling Park and 7-5 on the road.
Starting with Friday’s afternoon game through next Tuesday, HOF Head Baseball Coach Wayne Graham’s bunch will have played 4 on the road. Dating back to March 23rd through next Tuesday, they will have played 12-of-16 on the road. That’s a lot of road baseball games for a college baseball team even if the team is the Rice Owls.
“Right now to tell you the truth, ‘bout half of them got the thousand-yard stare,” said Graham. “We got guys that got five papers due in the next week and we’re going to be on the road – and five papers due by next Friday and we’re going to be on the road.”
“All we can do right now is try to get them focused during the game. You try to beat them up out here (during practice) you try to yell at them, they don’t even hear you. This is a hard school – this is really hard.”
Graham not only has up close and professional experiences with his players regarding the academic rigors of Rice, he had one that was more personal.
“My Wife, Tanya, decided to get her degree here in ’95 after we had been here five years and I kind of went through it with her – it is hard. Now all of them, (players), are not under that kind of gun because some of them only had to take 9 hours to graduate and they’re graduating. And some of them took 12 hours and 6 of them are not that hard. But even somebody who took 12 hours and 6 of them are not that hard, it’s still hard.”
CLASS IS NO PICNIC
According to U.S. News, Rice University is the 17th ranked best academic institution in the United States. The rankings are based on widely accepted indicators of excellence such as freshman retention, graduation rates, and the strength of faculty.
The strength of faculty is a known asset to Rice University with which Graham is very familiar. Due to his length of service, he knows the landscape quite well.
“These people here, you know, are good teachers,” said Graham. “But they’re also some of the most demanding teachers in the world ‘cause it’s crammed. We’re done with school. We’re done with going to school next Friday, I think. After a week of finals, it’s over – which is good in a way because when all that’s over, if we’ve still got our head above water, we got a good chance.”
Graham has been at the helm for 21 seasons. The 2011 season was Rice’s 17th-straight appearance in an NCAA Regional.
“Keeping our head above water – this is going to be critical and that’s the reason it’s good the Coach, (Graham), knows the issues because I’ve been here a while. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win. But, we sure know how to win this time of the year.”
The record speaks for itself. Graham’s Owls have been to NCAA Super Regionals nine times since the format was adopted in 1999. He has guided them to the College World Series seven times since 1997. In 2003, Rice won its first-ever team national championship in any sport.
The Owls have stranded 298 runners in 35 games this season compared to the oppositions 245. When the season began, the Owls had much confidence in veteran lineup of hitters such as junior hard-hitting of/if Michael Ratterree, outfielder Jeremy Rathjen, Michael Fuda, Craig Manuel, and J.T. Chargois.
However, the results have not yielded what was hoped for with men in scoring position, more specifically bases loaded, until Rathjen’s heroics on Tuesday night against Texas State.
It happened in the bottom of the seventh inning which helped lead Rice to the 6-5 come-from-behind victory over visiting Texas State. Rathjen reached back and found what was needed to pull out the win with a bases-loaded triple to right field, the first time in April that a Rice Owl has unloaded the bases with a base hit.
“Incredible game in one way,” said Graham. “They, (Texas State), got a triple down the first base line with the bases full.” The Bobcats scored four runs on that one hit in the top of the third and took a 5-1 lead. The Owls struck back.
“We got a triple down the right field line with the bases full,” said Graham. “Amazing that both teams’ big hit would come from a ball down the opposite field line – right hand hitters hit the ball down the right field line – amazing – but we’re going to have to start getting clutch hits.”
The Owls will be looking to get those clutch hits starting Friday versus a Marshall Herd team that is 13-19 on the season. First pitch Friday is 1:05, Saturday 1:05, and Sunday at 9:00 a.m.