There's nothing new about Rice playing postseason baseball at home, and an all Texas field in the Houston Regional isn't all that shocking either. The top-seeded Owls, the second overall national seed in this year's tournament, will welcome in TCU, Baylor, and Prairie View this week. The Frogs are fresh off a conference championship in the Mountain West this season, as is Prairie View in the SWAC. Baylor, meanwhile, was this regional's lone at-large selection. College Station, meanwhile, will play home to the Big XII Tournament champs, the homestanding Texas A&M Aggies, as well as the tournament's top #2 seed, Louisiana-Lafayette. Trying to battle those two for a super regional berth will be Ohio State and Le Moyne, both league champions themselves.
(1) Rice [#2] (49-12)
Reckling Park is relatively new in the world of baseball stadiums, having opened only seven years ago. The stadium is listed at a 3,500 capacity (3,300 chair back seats), but had a high of 5,003 for an April 18th game against Texas. Rice is 28-3 in Reckling Park this season, with the three losses coming to Texas A&M, Long Beach State, and St. John’s, so it won’t be an easy feat for any team to come in and take a few from the Owls.
Starting Pitcher - Ryan Berry, Rice - Joe Savery gets most of the attention, TCU’s Jake Arrieta is a stud as well, and teammate Ryne Tacker was the C-USA pitcher of the year, but the freshman has put together the best numbers. He enters the regionals with a sparkling 10-2 record, a 2.72 ERA, and has 102 strikeouts in 102.2 innings. Good for Rice that he’s got at least two more years, bad for everyone else who has to face him.Runner-up: Jake Arrieta, TCU
Relief Pitcher - Cole St. Clair, Rice - This one is a no-brainer. Sure, St. Clair missed half of the season due to injury, but a healthy St. Clair is a nearly unhittable St. Clair.Runner-up: Sam Demel, TCU
Infielder - Brian Friday, Rice - Personally, he might be my favorite name in college baseball. On the field, he’s not too shabby either. He actually had a down year compared to last season, but he still fields his position better than 280+ shortstops in Division I, and he’s one of the top leadoff hitters in the country (.346/26 doubles/58 runs).Runner-up: Beamer Weems, Baylor
Outfielder - Keith Conlon, TCU - Conlon is an excellent hitter (.406/8 homers/40 RBI), and his speed is an attribute at the plate (five triples) and as a center fielder (only three errors in three seasons at TCU). As the leadoff hitter, he sets the table for the bats of Clint Arnold and Austin Adams, and in the field, he helps keep runs off the board.Runner-up: Tyler Henley, Rice
Homerun Hitter - Aaron Luna, Rice - Last year’s Aaron Luna is showing up at the right time. He hit 16 homers as a freshman, but had only seven less than two weeks ago. However, he may well have found his stroke. Luna hit .591, homered three times, and drove in 13 runs in the C-USA tournament to earn MVP honors. He’s gotten his totals up to .343/11/60 after the monster week.Runner-up: Austin Adams, TCU
Pro Prospect - Jake Arrieta, TCU - Arrieta is currently projected as a late first-round pick in next month’s draft. He’s a big guy (6’4, 225 pounds) with a quality fastball in the 90s and two good backup pitches. He struck out 111 batters last season, and has 89 punchouts this season.Runner-up: Joe Savery, Rice
Coach - Wayne Graham, Rice - Graham has done a tremendous job at Rice since arriving in 1992. Before he arrived, the school had never won a conference title or been to the NCAA tournament. It took four seasons to make it to their first, and they haven’t missed one since. Rice has won twelve straight conference titles in the WAC and C-USA, and have won 733 games under Graham. Oh, and there’s that national title in 2003, and five appearances total in Omaha.Runner-up: Steve Smith, Baylor
If the Owls are anything like they were last week at the C-USA tournament, it will be a happy weekend in Houston. The rotation of Berry, Tacker, and Savery is one of the best in the nation, and the bullpen follows suit. The biggest thing, however, is the fact that Rice’s bats have woken up at the right time. The Owls were an offensive juggernaut last season, but have been hot-and-cold this season. With the recent emergence of Jared Gayhart and Jess Buenger, and the resurgence of the veterans, the Rice lineup is once again dangerous.
Baylor has been on a hot streak recently, but TCU has been just as hot. The teams split their two midweek meetings in the regular season, but in the postseason, you’d have to give TCU the edge to have the best shot at knocking off Rice. Their rotation of Arrieta, Chris Johnson (11-2, 3.89) and Chance Corgan (7-1, 3.93) can more than hold their own, and so can the lineup, with Adams, Conlon, and catcher Andrew Walker (.329/11/56). And, as for Prairie View, with Rice’s recent history against SWAC opposition, you could say they’ve definitely got a chance, especially with speedster Michael Richard (.406, 41 steals) and a team that’s stolen 154 bases this season, as well as pitcher Wrandal Taylor (9-5, 3.84, 83 Ks).
COLLEGE STATION REGIONAL
(1) Texas A&M (44-16)
Texas A&M’s Olsen Field opened in 1978. It’s one of the biggest stadiums by capacity in the nation at over 7,000. The largest crowd in stadium history was 8,847 in 2003 against in-state rival Texas. Having a ton of fans is the stands no doubt is a benefit to the home team, which went 30-7 in the friendly confines this season. Or, it could be the great grass.
Starting Pitcher - Danny Farquhar, Louisiana-Lafayette - Farquhar has been an absolute stud. In 29 appearances, he’s 6-3, with a 2.80 ERA. He’s been a strikeout machine, punching out 112 hitters in only 83.2 innings. He was a reliever for most of the season, but he will be a starter in the postseason, where he excelled in the last four weeks of the year.Runner-up: Cory Luebke, Ohio State
Relief Pitcher - Kyle Nicholson, Texas A&M - It’s tough to figure out where to put Nicholson on here because he’s been both a starter and a reliever. But he’s excelled at both, going 11-1, with a 1.92 ERA, and 93 strikeouts. He’s also logged four saves out of the bullpen, and pitched two complete games as a starter.Runner-up: Ryan Woods, Le Moyne
Infielder - Brandon Hicks, Texas A&M - The shortstop is one of the biggest reasons why A&M has had a stellar season. The JC transfer is hitting .349, with 19 doubles, 10 homers, and 58 RBI, and has scored 71 runs and stolen 26 bases. In the field, he’s fielding at a .951 clip in 324 chances.Runner-up: Andy Parrino, Le Moyne
Outfielder - Blake Stouffer, Texas A&M - Stouffer is one of the few returning starters on this year’s team, and he’s shown a great deal of improvement, just like the team has. He hit only .259 last season, but is hitting .391 this year with nine homers and a team-leading 76 RBI. He’s also stolen 20 bases. The junior is listed as an outfielder, but has played first base and third base this season as well as right field.Runner-up: Jeffries Tatford, Louisnaa-Lafayette
Homerun Hitter - Jonathan Lucroy, Louisiana-Lafayette - The junior catcher has been a great hitter since his first year, when he was a freshman All-American. Last season he hit 12 homers, but this year he’s been one of the South’s top power hitters with 17 long balls and 65 RBI.Runner-up: Scott Hawkins, Louisiana-Lafayette
Pro Prospect - David Newmann, Texas A&M - After two years at San Jacinto JC, Newmann transferred to A&M but missed last season after Tommy John surgery (he also missed 2005 at SJJC). He looks just fine now, though, having gone 10-1 with a 3.21 ERA while averaging nearly a strikeout an inning (89 Ks in 92.2 innings). Newmann was drafted in the 24th round out of high school, but is projected as one of this year’s top 100 prospects.Runner-up: Jonathan Lucroy, Louisiana-Lafayette
Coach - Bob Todd, Ohio State - Todd has been one of the top coaches in the country for the past two decades. The Buckeyes are set to make their 12th regional appearance under Todd. OSU has won seven Big Ten regular-season titles and eight tournament titles in his 20 seasons, and they have hosted three regionals and two super regionals.Runner-up: Rob Childress, Texas A&M
It’s all about A&M and Louisiana-Lafayette. The Aggies are trying to reclaim a place among college baseball’s elite, and the Ragin’ Cajuns are out to prove that they deserved a #1 seed. A&M is one of the top all-around teams in the tournament. They’re hitting .320 as a team, have good power numbers (58 homers), and have stolen 139 bases as a team. And the pitching staff has enough talent to take care of business. The Ragin’ Cajuns are one of the top power hitting teams in the country, with four guys with double-digit homerun totals. On the mound is where the Cajuns might have the edge, though. Farquhar was dangerous out of the pen, but he’s even better as a starter. Hunter Moody was a preseason All-American, and Brent Solich was voted to the Sun Belt all-tournament team. If junior Buddy Glass is able to put injuries and a couple of recent rough outings behind him, that gives the Cajuns a fourth weapon that can be big during regional time.
But before those teams can face each other, they have to win their openers. Ohio State is more than capable of pulling the upset, not only because they have the momentum from their Big Ten tournament run, but because of Luebke, who should be locked in quite the duel with Farquhar on Friday. And Le Moyne won’t be an easy win for A&M. Dolphins ace Bobby Blevins (9-2, 2.77, 99 Ks) is capable of shutting the potent Aggie offense down. Blevins holds the school records for wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched.
But, in the end, it looks like it will come down to the Aggies and Cajuns. A&M has put together an exceptional season, but they’ve gotten a pretty tough draw. The Aggies were hard to beat at home this season, but ULL has what it takes to go into College Station and come away with a regional title. A&M has been a big-time hitting team this season, but they’re also strikeout-prone, and that plays right into the hands of the ULL pitchers, who can punch ‘em out with the best of them.