Six years removed from reporting, writing, blogging and in other ways committing journalism about college baseball, I enjoy being reminded of how fun and exciting it can be, especially when a game ends on a play at home plate. In this case, more than a game ended — so did an impressive streak.
For the first time since 1995, Rice University failed to win either its conference’s regular-season championship or tournament championship. That includes parts of Rice’s time in the Southwest Conference, the Western Athletic Conference and Conference USA.
The runner representing what would have been the tying run was thrown out at the plate in a final putout from center fielder to shortstop to first baseman to catcher, or as written in the scorebook, 8-6-3-2. The University of Southern Mississippi celebrated its Conference USA tournament championship after the game-ending play.
It should not surprise anyone who’s followed Rice baseball for more than a few games that the Owls took the risk of trying to score the tying run on the play. That’s how Wayne Graham has always done it — whether at practice or in the coaches box at third base, waving home the runner. “Make the defense make a play,” he’s said numerous times, knowing that in college baseball, solid defense is a luxury, not standard equipment for most teams. “Make them make the throws.”
He said that during the 2005 super regional at Tulane University in New Orleans after seeing the gamble fail, and he said it before and after that, after seeing it pay off. The play Sunday required three throws — the first two to cutoff men, and the third to the catcher — in a “double cut” executed to perfection by Southern Miss. Otherwise, Rice’s streak would have survived another year.