In the first home game of his career, with Rice trailing 6-4 in the eighth inning, freshman second baseman Trei Cruz came to bat with the bases loaded. He was not fazed. Cruz delivered with a bases-clearing triple to put the Owls ahead 7-6 over Texas State University, and Rice held on for an 8-6 victory for its third win in four tries in the young season.
According to Cruz, it was the perfect ending to his first home game.
“It felt amazing,” Cruz said. “I didn’t think it was going to get all the way to the wall, to be honest, but I just ran like hell and it worked out.”
The Owls fell behind early in the game when Texas State scored three runs in the third inning on a hit batsman and three singles. The Bobcats added runs in the fourth and sixth innings to go ahead 5-0. Head coach Wayne Graham said the team’s start was disappointing.
“I didn’t expect us to play that poorly in the first few innings coming off of three games where we played pretty well across the board, but that happens,” Graham said.
The Owls got runs back in the fifth and seventh to close the gap to 5-3, but Texas State tacked on another run in the eighth to push its lead to 6-3. But in the bottom of the eighth, Texas State pitchers put the first four Owls on base via three walks and a hit batter. That brought Cruz to the plate. He worked the count full, fouling off pitches before driving a ball to the gap in left center field. According to Cruz, he was looking to rebound following his last couple at-bats, during which he went 0-for-2.
“I missed a couple pitches in the at-bats beforehand and I wanted to make up for them,” Cruz said. “I wanted to pick our team up, and I wasn’t going to let [the pitcher] beat me.”
Cruz, whose father played for Rice in the 1990s and whose grandfather played for the Astros in the 1970s and 1980s, said the moment was especially memorable because his entire family was watching from the stands.
“I saw them from a distance pointing at me from third base,” Cruz said. “They were just screaming. Screaming in Spanish, of course, because some of the words they say shouldn’t be said in English.”
Rice tacked on an insurance run in the inning, and sophomore pitcher Garrett Gayle got the save in the ninth inning to preserve the 8-6 victory. The win gives the Owls a 3-1 record heading into this weekend’s visit to No. 12 Stanford University. Head coach Wayne Graham said that although the win was ugly, it bodes well for the future.
“That they came back...is significant, no doubt,” Graham said. “If you can win ugly like that, you’ve got something under your belt. Some moral fortitude.”
In all three of their wins this season, the Owls have trailed in the eighth inning and have come back to win. According to Cruz, the comebacks are a product of the team’s mentality.
“Our motto is to pick each other up,” Cruz said. “No matter what we do early in the game, there’s always somebody who’s going to pick someone up. We just keep going, keep the mindset, stay aggressive, and it’s worked out so far.”
The Owls now head on the road to take on undefeated Stanford, which swept then-No. 17 California State University, Fullerton over the weekend. Graham said the Owls will have to play their best to have a chance against the Cardinal.
“It’ll take everything we’ve got because Stanford is really good,” Graham said. “They’ve got really good pitching. Who knows, maybe we do too.”