NCAA Baseball Tournament Preview: Houston Regional (Rice)
CUSA Fans sports writer Joey Whelan brings us a preview of the upcoming NCAA Baseball Tournament Houston Regional featuring the Rice Owls of Conference USA.
Location: Houston, TX; Reckling Park (3,500)
Rice (49-12) - #1 Seed (#2 National Seed) - Conference USA Automatic Bid
What a season for the Owls who enter the Houston Regional fresh off winning the C-USA Tournament and having won 22 of their last 23 games. Rice has gotten the job done with the bat as well as on the mound. Six players finished the regular season batting better than .300, and sophomore Aaron Luna has been a stellar offensive weapon all season long, leading the team in home runs and RBIs. The pitching staff has been even more impressive, with a team ERA of 2.96 and three pitchers who have won at least nine games.
The Owls have not been in a slump for the entire season, having lost back-to-back games only three times during a 61-game schedule. This is one of the most balanced teams in the country and is the hands down favorite in this region.
Texas Christian (46-12) - #2 Seed - Mountain West Conference Automatic Bid
It was another strong season from the Horned Frogs as they came away with the Mountain West Conference Championship. They were consistent throughout their schedule, with only one multi-game losing streak all season, a 3-game skid in late February. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Texas Christian has won 18 of their last 20 games, and topped 10 runs four different times.
Offensively the Horned Frogs have been a team to be reckoned with, batting .316 collectively while scoring 441 runs and slugging 59 home runs. The pitching staff has performed well too, with a particularly strong performance coming from the bullpen this year. With a pitcher like Sam Demel in the bullpen, Texas Christian will have a leg up in many close games.
Baylor (34-25) - #3 Seed - Big 12 Conference At-Large Bid
While Baylor performed brilliantly in out of conference games this season, they struggled in the Big 12, finishing with a 12-15 record. Offensively it was a solid year for the Bears who batted .292 collectively and averaged close to 7 runs per game. The struggles came from the pitching staff that had an ERA of 4.63. Nick Cassavechia was very strong out of the bullpen, but Baylor had only one consistent starter with in ERA under 4.50.
The Bears put together a nice 7-game winning streak early in the season, and down the stretch had a 6-game streak as well, but in between they were not able to win consistently. Baylor alternated between wins and loses, playing .500 ball, for the better part of 6 weeks during the middle portion of the season.
Prairie View A&M (34-23) - #4 Seed - SWAC Automatic Bid
What Prairie View A&M lacks in power (they only hit 24 home runs), they more than make up for with batting average and speed. The Panthers batted .307 as a team and ran all over opponents on the base paths, stealing 154 bases in 181 attempts. This small-ball approach allowed Prairie View to average nearly 8 runs per game, an impressive number for a team lacking any real power hitter.
The pitching staff saw nearly half of its starts go to the rotations two aces, Matthew Chase and Wrandal Taylor who did a solid job on the mound. The problem is that the other two consistent starters for the Panthers each had ERA’s over 6.00. The bullpen wasn’t particularly too strong either this year.
Houston Regional Predictions
#1 Rice vs. #4 Prairie View A&M
While the Panthers had strong offensive numbers this year, it came against competition that paled in comparison to the schedule that Rice faced. There is a reason the Owls are ranked second in the country, they are very well balanced, have been winning consistently and have been doing it against good competition.
#2 Texas Christian vs. #3 Baylor
This has the potential to be a very fun series with a match up between two teams that have had plenty of success in recent years. There are two problems facing Baylor though: they don’t have strong enough starting pitching to slow down the offensive force of Texas Christian; and the Horned Frogs are on a roll right now.
Winner: Texas Christian
Regional Final: #1 Rice vs. #2 Texas Christian
These two teams already met once during the regular season, and Rice came away with the win. Again with two teams that know how to score runs the deciding factor will be pitching, where Rice has a slight advantage, being able to go deeper into their starting rotation.