Amid all the shots of excitement and
celebration that surrounded the announcement of the 64 teams who will embark on
the Road to Omaha with the hopes of reaching the 2017 College World Series, one
of the lasting reactions will be that of the players from Miami, who were
forced to confront the end of a remarkable 44-year run of tournament
their own streak of 23 consecutive appearances is shorter by years than the age
of some of their teammates, Rice seniors Dayne Wunderlich and Charlie Warren could
sympathize with the emotions of the Hurricanes after a remarkable late-season
surge rescued the Rice's streak, which now stands as the third longest active
streak in NCAA history.
comes from a big time tradition at Brenham and I played at The Woodlands and we
also have a big baseball tradition," Warren said. "We have been part of extending the tradition at Rice and we both have always
known that you don't want to be the group that doesn't pass the streak on to
the next team. "
experiences, along with the gnawing stigma that the upperclassmen at Rice carried as part of a group who saw Rice's 20-year streak of conference titles end in
a walk-off win by Southern Miss the previous season, drove them to close the
ranks in a team meeting that came, ironically, after the aforementioned Golden
Eagles had just taken two of three at Reckling Park, leaving the Owls at just
4-11 in Conference USA and 13-28
'We knew Southern Miss was going
to be the contender that we would have to take down so when they came here and
kind of embarrassed us by blowing us out twice at home, it left a bad taste in
our mouths," Wunderlich said. "It became a recurring theme, that we were good
enough to be the champions of Conference USA.
We didn't do it last year and we started out this year so bad. We knew that once we were midway through
conference that we had to step it up to even make the tournament and get a
chance to take them down to win the tournament."
During a midweek lull in the schedules
and with finals on the near horizon, the seniors called their teammates
together to stake a claim for the remainder of the season.
"We knew what the record was,
but the message was that this was all on us to turn it around. The series at Western Kentucky was a great
chance and we did that big time," Warren said.
"We could say that we were
better than this as much as we wanted, but at the end of the day, we had to
play like it," Wunderlich said. "We needed to just go out on the field and play
as hard as we could every game and try to play up to our own abilities. Not try
to do too much. We evaluated ourselves
and looked deep into ourselves and each guy said this is what you need to do:
Do your own part for the team and we will be successful. "
Nationally there was buzz that
three of the four longest active NCAA streaks were in immediate peril as
Florida State, owners of the second-longest streak at 39 games, was also hovering near the .500 mark But locally, the Owls shut
out any considerations other than the next game.
swept a series from Western Kentucky, took two of three from UTSA and then
showed a resilience to respond to late challenges and produce a walk-off win
over Lamar and then overcome a five-run deficit with six outs left to complete
a series sweep at Charlotte.
was startling, but both Warren and Wunderlich said it came from the most basic
have to know your capabilities, know your own body and know your own level of
play," Wunderlich said. "We are very team-oriented. Everybody is doing what they
need to do. Whenever we need a big hit, they've been coming from a lot of
different people. We've paid a big
price this season and we've come through the fire and now we are finally seeing
a little success."
Owls hit .317 as a team while winning 18 of 22 and both seniors
joined in the effort. Warren raised his average from .259 to .265 while
Wunderlich hit .297 to raise his average 45 points. The team also blasting 29 homers, three more than their season total from 2016.
a season that once was in peril became one of great promise. But even as they made the potential of extending
the NCAA streak more plausible, Wunderlich said the focus remained as it had
been since their run began.
"It's (the NCAA streak) always in the back of your mind, but last Sunday in Biloxi, the only thing on
our minds was playing hard," he said. "We had some breaks in the game. The rain
delay certainly helped us because they were just starting to build a little
momentum. We came back from that and
jumped on them right away.
"We were really playing for our
lives. If we don't win that game, we're not in the tournament. So for us at that moment, it wasn't so much
extending the streak as extending our season," he stated.
And now with all matters such as
streaks safely secured and a third C-USA trophy added to the collection, the
Owls return to a familiar setting to take on a familiar foe in a tournament
that has become an annual expectation. The differences between coming to Baton Rouge
last year after a walk-off loss and this year with the emotions of returning
the outcome are obvious to Wunderlich.
We're definitely coming in hot and we have a lot of momentum behind
us but we have to keep that up," he said. "We played Southeastern (Louisiana)
last year in the regional and three times earlier this year. We know they are a
very good baseball team and we can't look past Friday night. Hopefully we can get a win there and then get
a chance to play LSU in front of a big crown on Saturday night."