Things are getting pretty crowded at the top of the Conference USA baseball standings, with four teams within half a game of one another, including both the Houston Cougars and Rice Owls. Rice has put together an 8-4 record in conference play thus far, while the Coogs are one of three teams with a 6-3 record. Both squads will be taking on teams with 6-6 records this Easter weekend.
Houston will be hosting traditional power East Carolina on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The Pirates, who play their home games in little league park Clark-LeClair, have traditionally been a high-scoring team, but with the new, deader bats, have reinvented themselves as a pitching-heavy team this season. ECU is 25-12 overall heading into the weekend, with a 2.27 ERA, but is playing just .500 ball in C-USA play, with just a 5-6 record away from home.
Click on past the break for some good news for the Coogs
The oft-injured Jared Ray, a very highly touted pitching recruit out of high school whose UH career has been derailed by injuries, will be making his first appearance since the 2009 season when he starts Thursday's series-opener. For a team with serious pitching depth issues, the prospect of an at least semi-effective Ray could be a huge boost.
The Coogs are currently sitting on a 19-19 record, but their tough schedule has them in the top 50 nationally in RPI, according to Boyd's World. However, playing .500 ball against a tough schedule is unlikely to ultimately get the Coogs into the NCAA post-season. To have a chance at an at-large berth, the Cougars will have to make a run at some point, and they are starting to run out of time.
Rice has won four of its last five games, including a series win over Tulane, and a mid-week victory over Texas A&M. They will hit the road to face an up-and-down UAB squad, which has series victories over ECU and UH, but who was swept last weekend by Memphis. To avoid playing on Easter Sunday, Rice and UAB will play a game on Friday, and a doubleheader on Saturday.