Defenses shine in
By Jonathan Yardley
Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com
Jonathan Yardley is a Rice University sophomore, sports
editor of the Rice Thresher and a radio announcer for Rice baseball on the Rice
University sports network.
HOUSTON-Much like the two
brackets of the College World Series last year, the seeding committee seems to
have paired four pitching-rich teams with each other. Rice, Wichita State,
Mississippi, and McNeese State all put the emphasis on pitching, and in most
cases underclassmen pitching.
While pitchers’ duels have
materialized in three of the five games, and Saturday’s first game was closer
than its 7-1 score, the tournament has also boasted some phenomenal defensive
plays from all four teams. Only Mississippi did not stand out defensively, with
seven errors in its three games.
In the opening game Friday,
Rice twice nailed lead runners on attempted sacrifices and Owl first baseman
Vincent Sinisi made a spectacular sliding catch of a looping foul ball on the
astroturf in front of the first base dugout. The Owls played error-free ball,
and the biggest defensive play of the tournament came in the top of the eighth
inning when right fielder Dane Bubela fired a one-hop strike to home plate to
nip McNeese State shortstop Lance Dawkins with the go-ahead run. Rice went on to
win in 10 innings.
That first game also
featured two outstanding defensive catchers, as Rice’s Justin Ruchti and McNeese
State’s Ran Prince each threw out two of three runners stealing base against
them. Rice’s lone successful steal came in the 10th from Enrique Cruz, who then
scored the winning run from second base on Craig Stansberry’s base hit down the
left-field line. Almost forgotten from that 10th inning was the fantastic
leaping catch against the wall from Cowboy left fielder Tommy Eubanks, robbing
Paul Janish of extra bases and momentarily saving the game. Rice head coach
Wayne Graham called it one of the best catches he has seen all year.
In the second game Friday,
Wichita State third baseman Brandon Green made two sterling plays. In the third
inning, with the possible opening run at third base and two outs, Green laid out
in the hole between third and short to snare a ground ball. After diving almost
backwards, Green got to his feet and fired to first, where first baseman Logan
Sorensen did the splits to catch the ball and stay on the bag, saving a run.
Green then turned a smooth 5-3 double play in the fifth to get out of another
The best play of Saturday’s
early game came in the ninth inning of a meaningless game, but it was a
fantastic running catch by Ole Miss second baseman Chad Sterbens deep down the
right field line.
Rice continued its hot
fielding in Saturday’s second game, highlighted by its middle infielders.
Shortstop Paul Janish started it off in the second inning with a full-length
dive to his left to snare a grounder before getting up and firing to first to
nip Shawn Smarsh. Keystone partner Enrique Cruz came up big in the late innings,
saving a run with two outs in the seventh. Cruz dove full-length to his right,
landing on the outfield grass, but still managed to fire to first and get
Brandon Green to bail out Jeff Niemann. Cruz then starred again in the ninth.
Kenny Waddell’s ground ball caromed off the glove of Rice reliever Colin Matheny
toward the second-base side of the infield. Cruz fielded it on the run toward
the third-base dugout, avoided a collision with Janish, who was also going for
the ball, and nipped the speedy Waddell at first.
In the nightcap, while
Wichita State’s two unearned runs decided the game, each team turned two
important double plays and Ole Miss catcher Charlie Waite delayed the inevitable
with a great ninth-inning scoop on a low throw from Sterbens.
The defenses have been
almost as hot as the temperatures, which have been in the high 90s for both
afternoons at Reckling Park in a record-breaking May for Houston. Home plate
umpire Bob Gustin had to leave Friday’s first game due to the heat, but returned
to the field Saturday. Home plate umpires wore wet towels around their necks
several times during the games to keep cool.
The wind has also played no
small factor in the five games. It has blown in for the evening games and the
majority of the afternoon games, making home runs difficult, but seemed to slow
down at just the right time for the home team Saturday. Rice left fielder Chris
Kolkhorst’s three-run shot in the second inning Saturday was lofted to right
field and benefited from the wind change. Wichita State shortstop Chris
McCoola’s blast Friday night was a line drive that stayed under the wind, as was
Rice first baseman Vincent Sinisi’s homer Saturday. McNeese State’s Tim Lemke,
Ole Miss’ Seth Smith, Jonathan Swearingen, and Brian Pettway, and Rice’s Paul
Janish all had to hit their homers against the wind.