April 6, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
Rice coach Wayne Graham, who turned 74 on Tuesday, is fond of telling a joke that represents one core philosophy of his exceptional program.
Graham has instructed his players on numerous occasions that if they are rounding third base on a hit to the outfield and they do not see a stop sign from whoever is coaching in the third-base box, they are to proceed. Even if Graham has a heart attack and dies on the field, the runner should continue unabated to home plate for when Graham greets Saint Peter at the gates of heaven, he'll ask if that runner scored.
Graham attempted to insert some levity into the proceedings following an unfortunate 7-6 loss to Dallas Baptist at Reckling Park, a setback that featured a woeful start to the game, several odd approaches at the plate, and a base-running gaffe that went against a fundamental tenet of the program.
Owls freshman second baseman Michael Ratterree, who produced a brilliant effort at the plate despite shoulder discomfort, hesitated and stumbled while rounding third in the seventh and was thrown out at home trying to score from first base on a RBI double by Jeremy Rathjen. Ratterree (3-for-4 with a walk, two runs and an RBI single) appeared unsure of the situation even as he received the green light from Owls assistant Mike Taylor, and he was retired for the final out of the frame.
"The rule is no matter what happens, if you're not stopped by the third-base coach you keep running, even if he doesn't wave you home," Graham said. "As long as he doesn't stop you, you run. I just told the joke again."
That miscue was but one of several, and Ratterree can rest comfortably knowing that he contributed disproportionately to the offensive output. Rice (17-13) not only opened the game flat, it couldn't muster more than one run in any inning despite the shaky pitching posted by the Patriots (17-12) prior to the contest. Dallas Baptist sported an ERA of 6.47 and opponents were hitting a robust .295 against its staff, but the Owls managed a multi-hit frame just twice - the first and ninth innings.
In a most unusual turn of events, the Owls' most prolific hitter, sophomore third baseman Anthony Rendon, didn't deliver with runners in scoring position on either occasion. He rolled a ground ball to Patriots shortstop Austin Elkins with Rathjen on second in the first, and with Jimmy Comerota representing the tying run at second and Rathjen the winning run at first, Rendon hit a soft liner to Dallas Baptist first baseman Ryan Behmanesh to close the game. Rendon finished 0-for-5, marking the second time in 30 games he failed to reach via a hit or walk.
Want more statistical oddities? Owls right fielder Chad Mozingo entered the game on a 16-for-29 tear over the last seven games, but finished 0-for-5 including two puzzling attempts to bunt his way on in the first and fifth. When the Owls needed Mozingo to bunt Comerota into scoring position in the ninth, he fouled off a changeup before later striking out.
Ratterree and Rathjen (3-for-5, three RBIs) essentially supplied the offense. Shortstop Rick Hague smacked a solo homer off Patriots closer Jared Stafford, who notched his third save, in the eighth and Comerota had an RBI single in the ninth that scored pinch runner Michael Fuda, but Rice was largely quiet at the plate on the heels of a sizzling streak.
"We came out flat," Rathjen said. "We battled back but it wasn't enough.
"You've definitely got to give a lot of credit to Dallas Baptist - they pitched well. But I think we could have hit much better."
The Owls' pitching in the first inning left plenty to be desired. Sophomore righthander Matthew Reckling (1-1) failed to retired any of the four batters he faced, walking the bases loaded before plunking Ryan Enos to force home the first run. Freshman lefthander Holt McNair started warming in the bullpen after Reckling walked the first hitter he faced, but McNair was greeted rudely upon his entrance when Behmanesh lined the first pitch from McNair over the wall in left for a grand slam and a 5-0 lead with zero outs. Chris Haney tacked on a two-run double off senior righthander Mark Haynes in the third, but from that point the Owls' pitchers held the line and awaited the comeback.
Alas, with a riveting sweep of rival Houston fresh in their memories and a critical Conference USA series at Tulane upcoming, the Owls easily played the role of victims to this trap game. Even still, they almost won.
"We had our opportunities, despite ourselves," Graham said. "We had a chance to win the game late."