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Monday, June 23
Updated: June 24, 4:34 PM ET
 
Humber silences potent Stanford attack

By Wayne Drehs
ESPN.com

OMAHA, Neb. -- It's been a running joke in the Rice clubhouse the last month or so that if sophomore Philip Humber is on the mound, the team is not allowed to score more than two runs.

So when the Owls jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the bottom the first inning, before Humber had even thrown his fifth pitch Monday night, the 6-foot-4 righty wasn't quite sure what to do.

"It was pretty confusing," Humber joked. "I didn't know how to what to do with myself."

Philip Humber
Philip Humber celebrates pitching Rice to its first national championship.
Going out and throwing one of the best games of his career, despite not having his best stuff, worked just fine. In the biggest game of his life, Humber, who entered the season as the ace of the young Rice staff, threw a complete-game five-hitter in Rice's 14-2 title-clinching win. He gave up two runs, but only after the outcome was no longer in doubt.

And his teammates got the no-run support curse off their back, busting loose for 14 runs on 14 hits.

"I can't tell you how much that helped," Humber said of the 4-0 lead Rice had after two innings. "It really helped me settle down and not think I had to pitch my way through a 1-0 shutout."

For all the talk about Rice starters Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend, the overpowering All-Americans that combined to go 28-1 with an ERA under 2.00 this year, it was Humber who was most impressive in the Championship Series.

He retired each of the first seven hitters he faced. He surrendered only one hit through the first six innings -- a double to Stanford's Brian Hall in the third. No Cardinal runner reached second base again until the 7th inning. And by then, Rice had a more than comfortable 11-0 cushion.

Humber had lost both of his two starts entering the World Series, but had received a combined three runs support in the two games.

"Man, we hadn't given him any run support in at least a month," left-fielder Chris Kolkhorst said. "He had been reminding us about that too. So I think it was huge to his confidence to be pitching with a lead for a change. And it showed."

In Humber's last start, five days ago against Texas, he was frustratingly erratic, hitting or walking five of the first 10 batters he faced. On the flip side, four of the other five batters he struck out.

But he lasted just 3 2/3 innings, giving up three runs and three hits while walking five.

"Going into that game, I thought all the wrong things," Humber said. "I thought about everything that could go wrong. Tonight, I concentrated on doing everything right."

I can't tell you how much that helped. It really helped me settle down and not think I had to pitch my way through a 1-0 shutout.
Rice's Philip Humber on getting early run support
Even more impressive was that Stanford's offense is one of the most feared in the country. The Cardinal finished second in the College World Series with a .279 average, but led all teams with 11 home runs (no other team had more than five), 45 RBI and 126 total bases.

"When I watched them take batting practice today, I wanted to hide," Rice coach Wayne Graham said. "They looked as strong as any team I've seen. And Philip tamed them."

He didn't have nearly his best stuff. During his warm-up session in the bullpen, Humber said he didn't have the movement and velocity on his fastball. His curveball was also inconsistent.

"It was pretty sloppy in the pen," Humber said of his curve. "I even bounced it in a few times when we were warming up on the mound. But I had better control of my other pitches."

And some great advice from Niemann and Townsend.

"I told him, 'Don't overpower them. They're looking for the fastball. So don't try to blow it past them, because they'll be all over it,'" Niemann said. "'Keep them off-balance and let them get themselves out.'"

Humber, who last year set a Rice record by winning 17 straight decisions, listened, relying on his split-fingered fastball to keep the Stanford hitters off-balance.

"The splitty would look like a fastball coming in and we'd get weak grounders and lazy flies," Rice catcher Justin Ruchti said. "That was the key."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.







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AUDIO/VIDEO
 Championship Season
AllNight: Giants OF Jose Cruz Jr., a proud alum of Rice, tells Todd Wright about the rise of the school's baseball program.
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 True Grit
The V Show: After taking the national title, Rice OF Chris Kolkhorst will now be known as Grit Man.
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