June 5, 2010
By MOISEKAPENDA BOWER
AUSTIN - As the Rice contingent shuffled into the player development area in the bowels of Disch-Falk Field Saturday afternoon, Owls coach Wayne Graham quickly and astutely observed that Anthony Rendon's nameplate was positioned in the middle, a slight breach of protocol.
Right on cue, Graham summarily excused the unusual dais configuration by chiming in with his wholly unique brand of self-deprecating humor.
"I have never hit three home runs (in a single game) in my life," Graham said, smiling wryly. "I once hit two, and the pitcher committed suicide."
In short, Rendon had earned the role as central figure of the postgame presser following his incredible three-homer, seven-RBIs performance. Rendon served as the linchpin of the Owls' 19-1 dismantling of Rider in the first elimination game of the Austin Regional, a season-saving win.
Twenty-four hours after being shut down and shut out by Louisiana-Lafayette senior righthander Zach Osborne, the Owls (39-22) laid waste to Rider freshman righthander Mike Murphy (4-5) and four of the five relievers out of the Broncs' bullpen. After going 0-for-2 against Murphy with a strikeout and a weak grounder back to the mound, Rendon went 4-for-4 and set a Disch-Falk Field single-game standard for home runs.
"I was so frustrated that I didn't even throw my helmet in the dugout," Rendon said of his atypically poor start. "Usually I'll hit something or I'll bang my helmet. I just set my helmet down and I put my bat down and I just ran out onto the field. I guess I took it out on my next four at-bats."
Rendon greeted Rider lefthander Chris LeRoy with a two-run blast to left field that extended the Owls' lead to 10-0 in the fourth inning. After stroking a leadoff single to center in the sixth, Rendon chased Broncs righthander Chris Taylor with a titanic three-run shot just to the left of center field in the seventh, a moon shot that made it 15-0. With two outs in the eighth Rendon homered to left field again, this time off Rider lefthander Tyler Smith with Jeremy Rathjen on first to cap the scoring.
The three-tater game was the first for Rendon as a collegian. As a senior at Lamar High, he hit three homers in a second-round playoff game against Langham Creek High. With his 4-for-6 effort Rendon raised his average to .400 and upped his single-season homer total to 26, tied with Damon Thames (1998) for the second-best in program history. Rendon has 46 career homers, third behind Bubba Crosby (59, 1996-98) and Lance Berkman (67, 1995-97), with a season of eligibility remaining.
Quipped Graham: "Rice has a record at Disch-Falk?"
Rendon wasn't alone. Junior shortstop Rick Hague snapped an 0-for-8 regional skid with a two-run homer two at-bats prior to Rendon in the eighth. Rathjen snapped a prolonged slump by going 3-for-4 with three runs, two walks and three RBIs. Senior first baseman Jimmy Comerota stranded four teammates while going 0-for-4 against the Ragin' Cajuns, but responded by finishing 2-for-3 with two walks, two runs and an RBI.
"We needed that tremendously," Rendon said of an eruption that featured eight extra-base hits. "That's the crazy thing about this team; we can go from scoring zero runs to scoring 19. I guess that's a good thing and a bad thing."
Beyond the offensive onslaught the Owls got just what they needed on the mound as sophomore lefthander Taylor Wall worked 3 2/3 perfect innings before giving way to senior righthander Mark Haynes (1-0), who logged 4 1/3 scoreless innings of relief. Haynes set season highs in innings pitched and strikeouts (five), but by pulling Wall after just 43 pitches, Graham ensured that his Friday night starter will be available should Rice survive long enough for a championship game on Monday.
"Obviously that's the kind of game we needed simply so that we could save everything we could save, because we haven't given up on the idea of trying to win this tournament," Graham said.
Wall appears to be trending toward regaining his staff ace form following a few rocky outings down the stretch. Though he barely broke a sweat against the Broncs (36-23), Wall displayed the mechanics that make him an effective three-pitch pitcher. He fanned three during his abbreviated mound stint, one he was more than pleased to abort given the circumstances and the Owls' pending need for his services yet again.
"Yeah, I'm fine," Wall said. "It gives me an opportunity to pitch again.
"I just want an opportunity to pitch again, and hopefully on Monday we can get to that point. I'll be ready to go."
No. 2 seed Rice will play a second elimination game on Sunday at 1 p.m., against the third-seeded Ragin' Cajuns. Should the Owls come away victorious, they would have to win a second game on Sunday night against top-seeded and regional host Texas to force a decisive contest on Monday evening against the Longhorns.