HOUSTON - It took 11 innings for the Rice Owls to defeat the Texas State Bobcats 4-3. However, this win signified more than just their first home win of the season. It also signified win No. 1,000 in the 22-year career of legendary head baseball coach, Wayne Graham.
“It’s good to have it. Good to get it out of the way now,” said Graham. “I don’t want that kind of pressure put on the kids. I’m glad we could do it tonight - relax a little bit. Although, we got a pretty tight game tomorrow last time I checked.”
The Owls will host the Houston Cougars on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, they celebrated the moment because of the significance and the nail-biting effort it took to earn the win.
BOBCATS KEPT COMING
The Bobcats opened with a two-run lead in the first and actually led until the Owls added two runs of their own in the eighth. Junior second baseman Ford Stainback scored the Owls first run thanks to a well-hit single to right by junior first baseman Skyler Ewing.
Experienced senior Michael Aquino got involved in the action after reaching on a fielder’s choice that sent Ewing to second. Junior-transfer John Clay Reeves promptly singled which allowed Ewing to score and tie the game at two.
The game remained tied until the 11th inning when Texas State took a 3-2 lead on the strength of a Tanner Hill two-out single to right that scored Cody Perkins.
STAGE IS SET
Reckling Park has been the sight of many great finishes under Graham. Tuesday night was no exception for the crowd that remained until the end.
The Bobcats were one out away from preventing Graham’s 1,000th career win. It took a yeoman’s effort from Rice sophomore Leon Byrd, who after fighting off several pitches from Dylan Bein, reached first on a base on balls. Following a Charlie Warren single to right, Byrd moved to third. However, Warren was thrown out at second for out No. 2 attempting to stretch the single into a double.
It didn’t matter as Keenan Cook scorched a double to right-center scoring Byrd. The game was tied at three. Byrd said he felt his Owls had a chance even though they were down a run.
“Keenan showed he could be clutch last year in the conference championship,” said Byrd. “He had the game-winning hit.”
“I started the night 0-for-3” said Cook. “I came in after my third at bat and Coach Graham just said keep grinding and stay after it. I took that into my last at-bat and that’s how I got it.”
John Williamson took the same mindset into his last at-bat and delivered the game-winning hit. The single to right scored Cook and lifted the Owls to a 4-3 win, their first home win of the season.
“It just goes along with Coach Graham’s legacy,” said Williamson. “It’s all about grinding it out. (When) the chips were down, we kept battling. That’s everything that he preaches day-in, day-out. So, to get it in this fashion, it was definitely fitting.”
Graham is now 599-145 at home with an overall record of 1000-401. The Owls are now 3-1 on the season with Houston coming to Reckling Park on Wednesday.