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Cougars, Owls Head To Minute Maid

The Houston College Classic doesn't feature quite the murderer's row of teams it usually draws, but there are still some competitive teams from major conferences in town to take on Rice and UH. Baylor, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Utah will all be heading to Minute Maid, as college baseball fans can take in nine games in three days.

As the Owl and Cougar baseball programs head to the big league park, some some semblance of order seems to be reasserting itself. After the first weekend, it was the Owls who were struggling, and the inexperienced Cougars who were flying high. With a second week in the books, we're starting to get a better idea of how these teams will end up.

After a 1-3 start, Rice has won five of its last six, including four wins over Pac-10 programs USC and Arizona. The weekend rotation of Matthew Reckling, John Simms and Austin Kubitza has been effective, but hasn't gotten deep into games. As expected, Anthony Rendon is in beast mode, and after a slow start, Jeremy Rathjen has come on strong, with 15 RBI in 10 games.

Heading in the other direction, after a 4-0 start, Houston has lost three of four. Still, there's no need to jump off the Todd Whitting bandwagon just yet. Houston played a competitive series against a previously unbeaten Ole Miss squad, and lost a tough one on the road to UTSA, 7-6. In compiling a 5-3 record, the Cougars have outscored opponents 59-33. Codey Morehouse and Jordan Lewis have looked like an effective 1-2 starting pitching punch on the weekend, and the entire pitching staff has greatly improved its accuracy from a year ago - walks per nine have decreased from 6.0 to 2.7. The Coogs aren't beating themselves like they have the past couple seasons, and have looked far better for it.

Here's who the hometown boys will be facing this weekend.

Baylor (4-4)

Starting pitching has been a problem in an inconsistent start for the Bears, who have gotten just one start of better than five innings. The offense has been less than stellar, as well, with just two homers, and a team batting average under .290. Look for a bounce-back weekend from sophomore slugger Logan Vick, who was a freshman All-American a year ago, with a .329 average and 10 homers, but is just 8-for-31 without an extra base hit thus far.

Baylor faces Houston at noon on Friday, and Rice at 2:30 on Sunday.

Texas A&M (8-1)

The Aggies have a lot of turnover this year, but always bring in the kind of talent to be competitive. They are off to a good start against a weak schedule, and this weekend will mark their first trip of the year outside of College Station. The Friday-Saturday combo of John Stilson and Michael Wacha is yet to allow an earned run in a combined 28 innings of work, and the pitching staff as a whole has put up a pristine 1.30 ERA, but the offense has been somewhat worrisome. The A&M bats have hit for just a .279 average, and have scored more than four runs in just four of the team's nine games, despite the weak schedule.

Texas A&M squares off against Rice on Saturday at 7:00, and Houston on Sunday at 6:00.

Kentucky (4-4)

Alex Meyer and Taylor Rogers have been effective starters for the Wildcats, and Trevor Gott is untouched in six innings of relief, but the rest of the pitching staff has struggled. The offense is off to a good start, hitting .307 as a team. After hitting just .200 as a backup last year, sophomore catcher Luke Maile is hitting .419 so far. Senior Taylor Black turned down the Cardinals after getting drafted, and leads the team with nine RBI, and 10 runs scored.

Kentucky plays Rice at 7:00 on Wednesday, and Houston at 3:30 on Saturday.

The 0-5 Utah Utes do not face Houston or Rice.

This weekend should be a good barometer of how the Owls and Cougars are progressing so far, as well as a good early test for the Aggies and Bears. If you're a fan of any of those teams, or just want to see some baseball in Minute Maid without the pain of watching the Astros lose, find your way out to the ballpark this weekend.

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.