One of the first things you see when you go to Reckling Park is the list of Rice University's seven College World Series appearances since 1997. The years are immortalized on a brick wall, unerasable declarations of the program that coach Wayne Graham's built.
You'll never see 2011 up there in brick though. Instead, this is a year that Graham and the Owls will spend a long time trying to forget.
For Rice's season never really reached the heights anyone expected — certainly not with Owls third baseman Anthony Rendon expected to become the likely No. 2 overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft Monday night — and it ended with one final bizarre, crushing indignity of a game. Hosting an NCAA Tournament Regional in its own stadium, playing as one of only eight national seeds in the entire 64-team field, Rice didn't even end up as one of the final two teams standing in the four-team regional.
Instead, the Owls lost their first elimination game Sunday, threw it away really, committing five errors in a 6-3 loss to a largely unremarkable Cal team. This was an agonizing, long mess of a game. It stayed tied at 3-3 without a pitch being thrown for more than two hours as lightning reports in the Houston area forced a delay.
But the real ominous sign for Rice came when it loaded the bases and yet somehow failed to score a single run in the top of the eighth inning, right before the umpires suspended the game. When Rice finally retook the field in the bottom of eighth (the Owls played as the "road" team), it started raining errors.
Michael Ratterree — who Graham has called "one of the more talented sophomore infielders in the country" — committed two crushing errors in the inning himself. Rice would end up with more errors as a team (five) than hits (three). Ratteree recorded two of those hits as Rendon went 0-for-3, finishing a season that never lived up to anyone's expectations for last year's National Player of the Year.
So Rice finishes its season 42-21. The Owls started 10-9 and despite a late run to another Conference USA crown, never truly resembled a vintage Rice team. The final proof? That came in only going 1-2 in a regional it hosted.
Now, Graham and the rest of the Owls will turn to watching Rendon get picked on Monday night, likely by the Seattle Mariners with the second selection.
Cal and Baylor — which both finished 2-0 against Rice this season — will play at Reckling for the right to advance to the Super Regional, with Baylor needing only one win and Cal needing two straight Ws to move on. Rice finds itself in the unfamiliar position of being hosts, but not participants.
That's certainly not something for the wall.
Editor's note: Read Chris Baldwin's column on the happy baseball carnival scene at Reckling and why so many fans dreaded a premature elimination.