The Rice Owls baseball team is the interscholastic baseball team representing Rice University in Houston, Texas, United States. The Owls have appeared often in the NCAA Tournament since the tenure of head coach Wayne Graham began in 1992. The program has participated in every tournament since 1995 and won the national championship in 2003, the first national championship for Rice athletics in any team sport.
Rice is a member of the NCAA Division I Conference USA. Previously, it has played in the now-defunct Southwest Conference and in the Western Athletic Conference. From 1997–2008, Rice won 12 consecutive regular season titles in its conference or division. Nine of the championships came in the Western Athletic Conference, while the final three came in Conference USA. The streak ended in 2009 when East Carolina won the regular-season conference title; however, Rice won the post-season tournament. Rice subsequently won the 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 regular-season C-USA titles.
In 83 years of Southwest Conference play, Rice finished in the bottom half of the conference in 72 times. Rice finished in last place for 24 of those seasons. The highest Rice rankings in SWC regular season play were second-place finishes in 1984 and 1994.
The modern era of Rice baseball began in 1992, when Wayne Graham, who had previously led San Jacinto College to five junior college championships, became head coach. Graham has coached 27 different players to All-America honors. In 1995, Rice finally broke through to make the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history--the first of 20 consecutive tournament appearances, including seven College World Series.
A year later, Rice won the 1996 Southwest Conference Baseball Tournament, the final SWC Tournament. It would be the first of 19 consecutive regular-season or tournament titlesin three different conferences.
Recently, Baseball America ranked Rice as the best baseball program in a nine-year survey of all 293 Division I programs since 1999. Data cited in the survey included Rice's five College World Series appearances and 2003 championship, its 35 major-league draft picks, and its 15 All-America selections over that span.
|“||We're only a step away from being the capital city of the capital state of the baseball world. This is going to be the greatest baseball city in the country and the world... I want Rice University to be Houston's team.||”|
|— Owls head coach Wayne Graham in 2003|
Rice entered the 2003 postseason having won 30 consecutive games early in the season and having won the WAC regular-season championship. The team had a 3-0 record in the regional round, defeating McNeese State once and Wichita State twice at Reckling Park to advance to the super regionals. In the super regionals, Rice faced off against cross-town rival Houston. In the regular season, Rice had beaten the Cougars in four of five games. After losing the first game 5-2, Rice rallied to win the second game 10-2 behind four home runs, including a three-run homer by Vincent Sinisi. Rice advanced to their second consecutive College World Series by winning 5-2 in game 3.
Rice entered the 2003 College World Series with a starting rotation made up of three sophomore pitchers: Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and Philip Humber. Rice won its first three games in the tournament– a 4-2 win over Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State University), a 12-2 defeat of defending champion Texas, and a second victory over Texas to advance to the championship round. Texas had already lost to Rice 2-1 earlier in the season. The Owls defeated Texas on catcher Justin Ruchti's one-run RBI single in the bottom of the 9th off of Texas closer Huston Street. The Owls' two wins against Texas was a change of outcome from the previous CWS, where Texas had beaten Rice in their opening game.
In the best-of-three championship series, Rice played against Stanford. Rice won the first game with its second consecutive walk-off victory, as Chris Kolkhorst scored from second on a throwing error in the bottom of the 10th to win 4-3. Stanford rallied in the second game the next night to win 8-3, but the Owls defeated the Cardinal in the final game 14-2 to win Rice's first national championship in a team sport. Each member of the Owls pitching rotation pitched in the championship series; Niemann recovered from three early runs to pitch seven scoreless innings in game one, Townsend pitched well in game two despite two seventh inning errors, and Humber threw a complete-game five-hitter to win game three.
In Houston after the championship series, the Owls were honored in a parade by the City of Houston. The University commissioned a painting of the championship to sell to fans and alumni that is still available in print form. The team also visited the White House, where then-President George W. Bush recalled watching Rice games in his youth and commended the team for their accomplishments.
|Wayne Graham||1992-current||1,039-420 (as of 1/1/14)||334-130 (as of 1/1/09)|
|Jess Neely||1945, 1948||13-26-1||9-16|
|Cecil Grigg||1936-44, 1946–1947||60-139-5||36-101|
Since their first meeting in 1948, Rice has played Houston 145 times. They have met for each of the past 37 seasons. The season-long series between these two teams has been known as the Silver Glove series since 1998, which Rice has lost only once. Overall, Rice leads the all-time series between their cross-town rivals by a record of 77-68.
Rice first played Texas in 1915, the first year of the Southwest Conference. Rice went 0-4 that first year, starting a trend of lopsided season series that lasted for 40 years, including no wins against the Longhorns for twelve years. Rice finally won two consecutive season series in 1955 and '56, and again in 1972 and '73. The only other Rice season series win before Wayne Graham came to Rice was 1978.
One notable win came in 1977, as Texas began the season with 34 consecutive wins, which was snapped by a 4-3 loss to the Owls in extra innings. This Texas record still stands today.
Since Graham arrived on South Main in 1994, the two teams have played more evenly, going 15-17 in that span. During Rice's resurgence, Rice and Texas have met twice in the College World Series. In 2002, Texas handed Rice a first-round loss. In 2003, however, Rice turned the tables, defeating the Longhorns twice en route to their eventual championship.
Since their end-of-the-season meetings in 2002 and 2003, the rivalry has been acknowledged as one of the most tense rivalries in college baseball. In the run up to the 2004 Minute Maid College Classic, The Daily Texan likened the Rice-Texas rivalry to the college basketball matchup between North Carolina and Duke, one of college sport's most famed rivalries. Factors contributing to the continued rivalry between the two schools include their proximity to one another, as well as the fact that many of their players compete together in summer leagues.
Reckling Park is the baseball stadium at Rice University in Houston, Texas, USA. It has a capacity of 5,368 and serves as the home field of the Rice Owls baseball team. The stadium was built on the site of Cameron Field, Rice's home from 1978–99, in time for the 2000 season.
Rice has sent more than 20 players on to the major leagues. Most notable among these are All-Star pitcher Norm Charlton, Gold Glover José Cruz, Jr., Perfect game pitcher Philip Humber of the Houston Astros, and five-time All-Star and Astros outfielder Lance Berkman.
In 2004, Rice became the first school ever to have three players selected in the first round of the MLB draft when Philip Humber, Jeff Niemann, and Wade Townsend were selected third, fourth, and eighth, respectively.
List of Rice Owls in Major League Baseball
Active players in bold.
List of Rice Owls First-Round Draft Choices
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