May 31, 2003


CBI Live
Defenses shine in Houston

By Jonathan Yardley

Rice Thresher

Special to


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 jam.


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.