Baseball comes alive

by Tony Tran

Heading into the Southwest Conference Tournament this week in Lubbock, the baseball team looked like cannon fodder for the rest of the conference.

The Owls were in a position to finish as high as fourth in the conference by sweeping the University of Houston last weekend at Robertson Stadium across town.

But after sending some positive signs of being ready before the post-season by capturing the first game, the Owls were swept in the last two games, causing them to fall into a tie for last place in the conference with the Cougars.

Houston was fielding a team of only 22 players due to academic suspensions of several players. However, the Cougars were able to take two out of the three games in the series, finishing with a 9-15 conference record.

Rice also suffered a big blow offensively in its next game, which it lost to Oklahoma State University 6-5 in Stillwater, Okla. Designated hitter Bubba Crosby, a second-team All-SWC selection, broke several bones in his hand and was lost for the season.

The Owls' skid and the injury to Crosby made their prospects bleak heading into the SWC Tournament, but they received a break by facing Texas A&M University, the third seed, as the sixth seed in the tournament.

Rice had defeated A&M in all four regular-season games, and things started well for the Owls as Jeff Venghaus doubled in a run and scored on an Adam Herndon single.

In the fourth inning, the Owls exploded for four runs to increase the bulge to 6-0. Starting pitcher Shawn Onley held the Aggies in check offensively through six innings before they knocked him out in the seventh, scoring twice to cut the lead to 7-4.

Matt Anderson entered the game, only to give up a three-run homer to A&M's Jeff Bailey four batters later to tie the game at 7-7.

In the top of the eighth inning, though, the Owls tacked on two more runs to regain the lead 9-7, and Anderson was able to finish out the Aggies, sending Rice to the winner's bracket of the tournament against second-seeded host team Texas Tech University.

The victory over Texas A&M, Rice's fifth in five tries, significantly bolsters the Owls' chances of appearing in the post-season.

Texas Tech, a top-10 team all year long, proved to be a tough challenge for the Owls, especially considering that they had lost a total of two times in 28 games played in Lubbock. The Raiders had manhandled Houston in their first game and were prepared for a Rice squad which had split four games with them.

The Owls sent senior Dana Davis to the mound to combat the nation's second-highest scoring team, which averaged over 10 runs a game.

With the likes of Clint Bryant, Lance Berkman and David Lindstrom around, it was surprising that the real stars of the game were the Rice battery of Davis and catcher Tim McLaughlin.

Davis turned in quite possibly the best performance of his career as he pitched the complete game and possibly guaranteed an NCAA bid next week.

His battery-mate, McLaughlin, provided all the offense that Davis would need, going three for four and driving in six runs. The big blow was a three-run home run in the top of the eighth inning which blew the game open against Tech pitcher Ryan Brewer.

McLaughlin's home run was only his second of the year but came at a time when the game was still in doubt.

The win left the Owls with a 37-21 record and in the winner's bracket semifinals against the conference champion and top-seeded University of Texas.

There was no doubt that the victory over the Red Raiders was significant in the eyes of the NCAA Selection Committee, according to Head Coach Wayne Graham.

"I think we really need at least another win," he said. "But certainly getting this far puts us in a different light."

This item appeared in the Sports section of the May 17, 1996 issue.

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