Feb. 18, 2014
HOUSTON - With no shortage of drama, the Rice baseball team rallied for a 4-3 win in the bottom of the 11th inning in Tuesday night's home game against Texas State to give Owl head coach Wayne Graham his 1,000th victory at the school.
Now in his 23rd season at the helm of the program, Graham has amassed an impressive 1,000 wins while maintaining a steady .714 Division I win percentage that is the fourth-best in the nation among active coaches (minimum five years coaching). Under his leadership Rice baseball has won 18-consecutive conference championships (including regular season or conference tournament titles) and been to NCAA Regionals in each of the last 19 seasons. His 2003 Owl team won the NCAA National Championship.
"When you reflect about 1,000 wins, you reflect about the people who helped you get it," Graham said. "Whether it be my wife - who has been there for everything - or the great players we've had over time. Rice gave me an opportunity when nobody else would, so it's a privilege to coach here. And to get 1,000 wins here was kind of outlandish, considering I started when I was 55, but I'll take it, I'll really take it."
Getting the Owls to rally from deficits two different times on Tuesday night may have been some of his best coaching yet. Texas State jumped on the scoreboard for a pair of unearned runs in the top of the first inning and held the lead until the Blue & Gray tied the game in the eighth on RBI singles by Skyler Ewing and John Clay Reeves.
Texas State threatened to go back in front in the top of the tenth after a leadoff double, but Graham immediately went to the bullpen for junior Zech Lemond who halted the threat with two strikeouts and a ground out. The Bobcats broke through with a run in the top of eleventh for new 3-2 advantage.
Rice answered with two runs with two out in the bottom of the frame. Leon Byrd drew a one-out walk and dashed to third on a single to right by freshman Charlie Warren, but Warren was retired while attempting to hustle an extra 90 feet to second base. Byrd scored on a double to right-center by Keenan Cook that made it 3-3. Cook sprinted home from second on a lining single to right by John Williamson for the 4-3 final.
"Our pitching was pretty good," Graham said. "It's good to get (1,000 wins) out of the way now, because I don't that kind of pressure put on the kids. I'm glad we could do it tonight.
"It's late and (the Rice fans) hung in there - they were hoping, and so was I."
Rice improved to 3-1 on the season. Texas State is now 2-2 overall. There is not much time to celebrate the head coach's milestone victory. The Owls next host crosstown rival Houston on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at Reckling Park. Start time against the Cougars is slated for 4:30 pm. The Rice Athletics Department will have a special presentation commemorating coach's 1000th victory in a pregame ceremony.