#24 Rice Owls (29-16, 9-6 C-USA) at Houston Cougars (22-23, 9-6 C-USA)
Friday, 6:30 PM
Saturday, 3:00 PM
Sunday, 1:00 PM
For new to the Cougar baseball program might not remember the last time Houston managed to beat Rice on the baseball field. As a refresher, it was May 1st, 2009. Of the Cougars who made an appearance in that game, only four have played for the Coogs this year. Since that game, Houston has lost to their crosstown rivals a staggering 11 times in a row, including two Conference USA tournament games, and two mid-week games already this year.
Houston enters this series with just a 22-23 record, but a projected RPI of 51, which means that the NCAA tournament might not be out of reach if Houston can end the season strong. So to reiterate, the Cougars need a series win against a team they haven't beaten in their last eleven tries.
For the Owls, their 29-16 record and top 25 ranking mean that, barring a season-ending collapse of epic proportions, their 17th straight NCAA appearance is wrapped up. However, there is still plenty to play for. If the Owls finish the season hot, and maybe even overtake Southern Miss for the C-USA title, they would be in position to host a first-round regional. A slow finish could see them drop all the way to a regional 3-seed.
Rice is expected to throw freshman Austin Kubitza as Friday night's starter. The Colleyville native spurned the Pittsburgh Pirates after they drafted him in the 7th round out of high school, and his college career so far has made it obvious why Pittsburgh was so high on him. Through ten starts, he has a sparkling 1.79 ERA, with 67 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings.
Houston will counter with Jared Ray, who earned the win the last time Houston beat Rice. Ray missed the entire 2010 season with injuries, and will be making just his third appearance of 2011. His first two starts lasted just four and five innings, respectively, in an effort to bring him back slowly, but he allowed just a single run in each start.
Neither team has formally announced a Saturday starter, but it could potentially be Rice's Matthew Reckling (2.62 ERA in 11 starts, .197 BAA) against Houston's Jordan Lewis (3.06 ERA, 5-1 record, coming off a complete game shutout), a pitching match-up to drool over.
Offensively, the teams have put up fairly similar numbers so far. Houston has hit .286 as a team, Rice has hit .277, and both teams have struggled to hit the ball out of the park with the new bats - Rice has 16 team homers to Houston's 15. Each team has its own strength, however - the Cougars have shown a bit more gap power (106 combined doubles and triples to Rice's 71) while the Owls have shown better patience at the plate (226 walks to Houston's 150).
The brightest offensive star on display will be Rice's Anthony Rendon, who may very well end up being the #1 overall pick in the upcoming MLB draft. He has just four home runs on the year, but that is taking into account the deadened bats, and the fact that he hasn't had many opportunities, with 63 walks in 45 games. That would translate to 227 walks over a 162-game MLB season, which would put him just five walks shy of Barry Bonds' single-season record. In what some are calling a "slump" season for Rendon, he has put up a staggering .558 on-base percentage, and leads the team with 20 extra-base hits.
The Owls will be without Jeremy Rathjen, a mainstay in the Rice outfield the last two years, who is out for the rest of the year due to injury.
The Cougars are led by four .300-hitting regulars - free-swinging shortstop Chase Jensen (.335, 39 RBI), right fielder Caleb Ramsey (.331, team-leading 19 XBH, 39 RBI), pitcher/DH Matt Creel (.320, .456 SLG%) and second baseman Ryan Still (.300, team-leading 27 walks).