Exhale, C-USA Honors Ballot, The No. 40.

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What a difference four weeks make. On March 30, the Owls needed a 7-2 victory over Lamar in Beaumont to avoid lugging a .500 record into this month. That win was rather pedestrian, but the result greatly appreciated after the Owls stumbled their way through a series loss at Memphis. One 12-4 stretch later, and the Owls are eying yet another Conference USA crown and (keep your fingers crossed) an opportunity to host the Houston Regional at The Reck.

There is much work left to do on both fronts, but at least the Owls will have a period to breathe a bit before they resume their schedule next Wednesday against Texas Southern. One month ago the bottom was perilously close to falling out on the season, but the offense found its groove with Jr. RF Chad Mozingo nestled atop the order, Sr. C/DH Diego Seastrunk providing protection for the Owls' cleanup hitter, So. 3B Anthony Rendon, So. OF Jeremy Rathjen emerging as a legit power threat, and Sr. 1B Jimmy Comerota morphing into Lou Gehrig.

The pitching has developed, somewhat, with So. LHP Taylor Wall embracing his role as the staff ace and Sr. RHP Mike Ojala looking more like his old self with each appearance. Fr. RHP Tyler Duffey appears to have found his second wind operating from the back of the bullpen, and while the staff continues to scuffle with inconsistency, there do seem to be enough arms available to piecemeal through a conference tournament and NCAA regional, no matter the locale. A rock-solid third starter would be a welcome addition, as would consistent righthanded relief out of the bullpen. But at least the Owls have seen flashes of both over the past month.

While the Owls spend the next week relishing their exemplary effort of late, they must resist the urge to look ahead. Now that they have crept back into the national rankings, talk surrounding the program is centered on hosting a regional. Given their current RPI (26/27) and the strength of their remaining schedule, the Owls don't appear in control of their destiny regarding hosting. If they were to win both the C-USA regular-season and tournament titles, and do so with, say, a 14-2 record over those corresponding 16 games, the Owls would stand at 40-18 heading into the NCAA Tournament. The combination of an extraordinary finish (26-6 over the final two months) plus the program's sterling postseason reputation would certainly solicit a second look from the selection committee. Their RPI wouldn't be deserving, but The Reck is an ideal setting for a regional, and it wouldn't be this staff's first rodeo. It seems 40 victories might do the trick if the Owls got a little external aid, but counting those wins in advance is folly for a squad that still hasn't reeled off a win streak of greater than five games.

But, again, Rice is 12-4 in April, with three of those losses coming by just one run. If the Owls were that close to 15-1, 14-2 isn't impossible. Sweep the home games against TSU, UAB and Southern Miss, finish 4-0 at the C-USA tournament, and go no worse than 3-2 in five road games at Marshall, Oklahoma State and UH. OK, self-imposed moratorium on that subject.

Who ya got for your C-USA postseason honorees? It appears that the Player of the Year race has been narrowed to five candidates, with East Carolina Sr. 1B/DH Kyle Roller the final member of that group to be involved in games including the Owls. Here's my current ballot:

1. UCF Sr. OF Chris Duffy: .442/.518/.836
2. Rice So. 3B Anthony Rendon: .378/.535/.748
3. Tulane RS So. 3B Rob Segedin: .425/.500/.830
4. UCF Sr. OF Shane Brown: .427/.542/.665
5. East Carolina Sr. 1B/DH Kyle Roller: .353/.536/.669

Duffy leads the league in hits (73), RBIs (60), homers (16) and total bases (138). Those numbers are hard to discredit, even when discussing the supremely talented Rendon, who paces C-USA in runs (50) and walks (48). Rendon will get to pad his stats at Marshall and against the pitching staffs of UAB and Southern Miss, both of which sport ERAs of 5.68. As the incumbent, Rendon might need only to bypass Duffy in the power numbers to claim his second consecutive C-USA POY award, but it's going to be a close finish with the pollsters.

Southern Miss Jr. RHP Todd McInnis, the Preseason Pitcher of the Year, has the inside track for the postseason award. He leads the league in ERA (3.14) and innings pitched (66.0), while ranking second in BAA (.218) and third in strikeouts (67). However, Owls Sr. LHP Taylor Wall is closing fast, and if I can convince voters to use only C-USA stats when considering the finalists, Wall will be difficult to deny if he maintains his current clip with three league starts left.

In C-USA games, Wall leads the league in ERA (2.04), BAA (.171), innings pitched (35.1) and wins (three), and is tied for third in strikeouts (26). He has the edge over McInnis in every category, so if he keeps it up, and if the voters get smart, Wall might clip McInnis at the tape.

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MK, with regards to post-season honors, this is where Rice's considerably tougher SoS vis-a-vis every single other C-USA team hurts the individuals. All stats are not created equal, especially not when you have grossly unbalaced schedules and some home parks that are hitters' bandboxes. There is no way any of those guys would have superior all-around stats to AR had they played against Rice's schedule. There is absolutely no disputing that Anthony has faced far better OOC pitching in facing the studs at TCU (1 game), UT (3 games), USD (3 games), Cal (4 games) and Stanford (3 games). Rice has played 17 OOC games against Top 50 teams; whereas ECU and Tulane have each played just 7 such games, and UCF has played only 3 OOC games against Top 50 teams. That's one heck of a difference...and it obviously has an effect on one's stats. And the same could be said of the pitching stats.

I do think overall stats should be included in conference POY discussion, but they should not be the overwhelming criteria; not when you have such blatantly unbalanced schedules.

Out of curiousity, how do AR's C-USA stats stack up against Duffey, Brown, Segedin and Roller? I know Anthony slumped badly in two of those conference series so far, so it is possible those others have better in-conference stats, as well.

Walt: I hope you realize that you are preaching to the choir regarding the strength of schedule argument. However, it's tough to dismiss what Duffy has accomplished, even against a weakened schedule. If we went by C-USA numbers only, Duffy isn't in the conversation. Rendon and Segedin have similar numbers, but the player that ranks second in batting, ninth in slugging, fourth in on-base%, fourth in runs scored, first in hits and sixth in RBIs is Owls Jr. RF Chad Mozingo. How about that? - MK

Segedin was the real deal in New Orleans. I did not see Duffy against us. Roller did not impress over the weekend, but that was one series.

What are Gehrig's, um... Comorata's CUSA stats? Must be pretty good.

Thanks for the coverage, as always MK. What are your plans for the break? If you are working, how about a follow up on the Owl NFL free agents? Thanks.

Owl75: Agreed on Segedin, the one legit bat in that Green Wave lineup. Comerota is batting .407/.508/.574 in C-USA with two homers and 14 RBIs. He was a lifetime .288/.373/.347 hitter coming into this season, has quadrupled his career home run total and already matched his single-season high of 28 RBIs set in 2008. Amazing. As for me, there is no break, and I'll be glad to follow up on Rice free agents. EDIT: Just learned that Sendejo signed with Tampa Bay and is leaving Thursday. I'll see if I can track him down for more details before he departs. - MK

you call going 2 for 13 for the week protecting Rendon?

Joe: C'mon now, cut GDG some slack. He called two excellent games on Friday and Saturday, and he is batting .302/.367/.481 on the season. He's done pretty well batting behind Rendon. - MK

As long as requests for articles over spring break are being put about one with our new AD?

Tiki: That's on the to-do list. - MK

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