Rice, Davis turn down draft, return as leaders

Nick Bratcher

Experience is one thing in sports that can’t be learned simply from hours of laboring on the practice field.

Just don’t tell that to the WKU baseball team’s two captains.

Senior catcher Matt Rice and junior pitcher Rye Davis are playing pivotal leadership roles throughout the Toppers’ fall practices, as they were both selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft in June but will return to school.

The duo agrees all the instruction and speeches would be worthless without some action to reinforce the message they send.

“We try to do it by example,” Rice said. “We have a lot of new guys this year, so just by coming out here and working hard every day, it shows the new guys how we do things.”

Head Coach Chris Finwood acknowledges the example his two captains are setting for the team in general.

“When you’ve got guys like (Rice and Davis) telling you something, you tend to listen to (them) more so than a guy that doesn’t conduct himself the right way all the time,” Finwood said.  “They’re great role models for these young kids.”

Rice led the Toppers last season at the plate, batting .369 in a team-high 58 games. Davis posted a .272 ERA in 33 appearances, earning nine saves as WKU’s top closer.

WKU will boast seven returning position players this spring, but the mound will sustain more turnover, losing two starters to the draft last year.

Davis said he’s taken to teaching the Toppers’ young pitching staff how to have a winning attitude.

“They have to know when they come here, we’ve got high expectations to show up and do the work,” he said.

But Davis admits the struggle involved in readying the young pitchers for the college game.

“Wherever they came from, they’ve always been the best at what they did,” he said. “It helps to let them know you’ve got to bring your best every day.

“There are no days you can take off. I have to keep pushing them.”

With WKU baseball experiencing so much early success last season, Rice and Davis are feeling the weight of all the expectations. However, the two are relishing the pressure this fall.

“This is a role I’ve always wanted to take on, to be ‘the guy’ that people always look to,” Davis said.