08 April 2013

Ten years later: The Streak

It wasn't part of the streak, but Rice went on
to win the 2003 national title.

April 8 marks the 10-year anniversary of the most impressive sports streak I have ever personally witnessed, Rice University’s 30-game baseball winning streak in 2003. Ten years ago tonight, Rice beat Texas A&M 8-0 at Reckling Park in Houston to mark the Owls’ 30th consecutive win and run the team’s record to 33-1 on the season. They stood just four wins away from tying the Division I record of 34 consecutive wins, set by Texas in 1977, and 10 games shy of the NCAA record of 40 consecutive wins, set by Division III Marietta College (Ohio) in 1999.

Rice's streak came to an abrupt end the next night, with Lamar beating Rice 7-5. Somewhat appropriately, Rice will play Lamar head-to-head on Tuesday night, this time in Beaumont, 10 years to the day after the Cardinals ended Rice’s run. That Lamar win actually sent Rice into a tailspin that saw the Owls go 4-6 in their next 10 games and finish the regular season 15-9.

But the story has a happy ending for Rice alumni like me, as Rice went 10-2 in the NCAA tournament and won its first – and only – national championship, finishing a remarkable 58-12. As a Rice sophomore and radio broadcaster for the baseball team at the time, that entire season provided a series of special memories impossible to forget.

With my scorebooks packed away in storage, looking back at a simple list of results to remember the 30-game win streak is a bit odd. I actually don’t remember that many of the individual games, which is rare for me. Here, however, are a few I definitely recall:

Feb. 23 – Game No. 5 – A dreary Sunday afternoon at the end of a home tournament, Rice and UT-Arlington made it all the way to the 10th inning without scoring before a bloop single from Austin Davis gave Rice the win. Coming on the heels of a 6-0 win over SEC power Ole Miss, it felt like a prime example of a trap game, but Rice somehow found a way to win.

March 11 – Game No. 13 – The big one. Rice 2, Texas 1, a scoreline that never gets old. Enrique Cruz hit a dramatic late-game home run – to the opposite field – while Wade Townsend hit 97 on the radar gun with a strikeout of Omar Quintanilla and David Aardsma helped keep UT at 1 run in the late going. For a Rice person, it doesn’t get much better than that.

March 21 – Game No. 19 – Rice 20, Liberty 1 – It’s a mismatch and a blowout, of course, but I remember it because fourth-string walk-on catcher Jon Gillespie, a favorite of everybody involved with the program, got in the game and pulled a single through the right side. Jon wound up finishing with the highest batting average of any Rice player in 2003: a perfect 1.000.

April 8 – Game No. 30 – Rice 8, Texas A&M 0 – With Rice playing in the WAC at the time, facing Big 12 opposition on Tuesdays was a big deal, and Rice downed Texas, Nebraska, Baylor, and A&M during the streak, including this comprehensive demolition to reach No. 30.

I’ll leave you with the opening from an old newspaper article that includes one of my favorite ledes I've ever written, appearing the week before the streak came to an end:
Crash Davis, the wise catcher in the movie Bull Durham, once said “a player has to respect the streak.”
Rice baseball players respect their school-record 26-game winning streak, but they aren’t afraid to talk about it.
“It’s a blast,” sophomore first baseman Vincent Sinisi said. “We came back this year with a lot of confidence, and that’s all it is – a bunch of confidence. Everybody comes out every night expecting to win the ballgame.”
The Owls have won almost every ballgame for the past month and a half, running their record to 29-1 and claiming the consensus top ranking in the country.

1 comment:

  1. Jonathan, thanks for your memories. I still have memories of you in the broadcast booth. Part of the streak, too. -- Guy