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Rocky Rooney, Collie Station & Buccaneers!

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On one hand, if you were unable to make the trip to Orlando and missed the Owls' taking of a tense series from UCF at Jay Bergman Field, you lost out on an opportunity to witness just how hardened the Owls have become the past few weeks. The same players whose desire to compete in every pitcher-batter confrontation was once brazenly questioned by The OG have repeatedly proven of late that if they're going down, they won't do so without a back alley fight.

On the other hand, if prior plans preempted your attendance at Rice-UCF, you had the great fortune of avoiding excessive exposure to the bush-league antics of UCF coach Terry 'Rocky' Rooney. In an attempt to garner additional attention for a program teeming with talented underclassmen recruited with his deft touch, Rooney consulted the book of clownish coaching theatrics, and he didn't deviate from the classic and contrived antics utilized by buffoonish managers of the past. All the tried and true methods for making a scene were on full display.

The Usain Bolt agitated sprint from the dugout to protest an innocuous call? Flawless execution. The aggressive index finger jut at the umpire's sternum aimed to show everyone in attendance just how vehemently one disagrees with a dubious call? Absolutely perfect form. The peacock strut, with hands wedged in rear pants pockets while the head and neck bob to and fro, face red and eyes wide with righteous indignation? Earl Weaver would be proud.

Given the circumstances and what was at stake - UCF had subtly framed the series as the most significant in program history - one outburst was understandable. Four was gratuitous. There was nothing sincere about what Rooney was doing, for his primary objective was to whip the crowd into a lather and inspire his players to perform out of their minds. He failed on both counts, making his utter lunacy even more deplorable. Rooney has done a masterful job assembling young talent at UCF, and if the Knights can overcome the loss of a couple program stalwarts (Sr. OFs Chris Duffy and Shane Brown) next season, Rooney will have them challenging for league supremacy. His recruiting has been that good, without question.

That's what made his histrionics unnecessary. If UCF doesn't get to the top of Conference USA this season, they just might next season or in 2012 (if the Knights aren't in the Big East by then). But instead of leaving impressed with Fr. SS Darnell Sweeney and Fr. CF Ronnie Richardson, I came away mortified that a college coach would conduct himself in such a juvenile manner on such a stage. UCF, the Knights and their fans deserved so much better.

[Ed. note: Kudos to Tim Henderson, Darrin Sealey and AJ Wendel for weathering the assault.]

As for the Owls (23-15, 8-4 C-USA), their Bataan Death March continues on Tuesday against A&M (20-14-1, 6-8-1 Big 12) at Olson Field. Perhaps because both teams are unranked, this regional grudge match lacks its usual sizzle. The Owls might be rounding into form, but the Aggies (RPI: 37/34) and East Carolina, which will pay a visit to The Reck this weekend, offer additional opportunities for the Owls to build a case to host an NCAA Regional (Outlandish? Perhaps). Sure, the Aggies were just humiliated at home by rival Texas to the tune of 22-0 in consecutive games on Saturday and Sunday, but this is still A&M. A shred of cache remains.

That thread appears mighty thin these days. Remember when A&M coach Rob Childress was hired to lead the Aggies back to Omaha, where they haven't been in more than a decade? He seemed the perfect hire (personally I love the guy and believe he's an excellent coach, but I digress), and it didn't take Childress long to get the Aggies on the doorstep of the College World Series. There is no shame in losing consecutive Houston Super Regionals at Rice, but there can be no other word to describe what happened last season besides debacle. From preseason No. 1 to eliminated at the Fort Worth Regional, the Aggies were the nation's most disappointing team in 2009. This season they are middling, and one can make a sound argument that A&M is at best the fourth-strongest program in the state behind Texas, Rice and TCU. Given its dollars and support (the best crowd in college baseball - bar none), this is unacceptable. A&M should always be exceptional; sixth place in the Big 12 ain't exceptional.

There will be plenty of time to get into No. 21 East Carolina later this week, but like Rice, perhaps national pundits were too quick in kicking dirt on the Pirates' grave. ECU has won six in succession and, after being declared dead following the dismissal of Jr. SS Dustin Harrington on April 1, the Pirates have worked their way into a share of first place in C-USA. Most assumed that Rice and ECU would duke it out for league supremacy, and while both have taken the circuitous route to the top of the heap, they are where they belong. The Pirates have played just eight road games this season and have three road series remaining in league play, so perhaps they have a tad more to prove than the Owls, who have already claimed road series at Tulane and UCF. Nevertheless, ECU will have the Owls' full attention this weekend.

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8 Comments

Nice post MK. Wish I had been in Orlando to see the craziness...although the Owls might have given me heart failure.

This is a big week for the Owls. They can take control of the C-USA race with a series win and really put a choke hold on it with a sweep. An at least 3-1 week definitely puts them right back in the discussion for hosting a regional.

Do you think it will be the Faz that gets the ball first in College Station or would the OG go with someone a bit more seasoned like Boogie? Got to think Abe will be ready to be called upon to shut the door in the late innings.

Russell: Jr. RHP Boogie Anagnostou will start for Rice against the Aggies. - MK

After last weekend's utter humiliation at the hands of the wine enthusiast, it will be interesting whether the Aggies come out with something to prove, or if they come out defeated. Given the way they've played of late, my guess is the latter.

Talk of hosting a regional? I like it - it's much better than heading to Baton Rouge, that's for sure - at least for the first weekend...

Wine enthusiast...at first glance I thought you said whine enthusiast and were talking about the UCF coach.

Even though A&M is living off their cream puff OCC schedule this is still a big game from a perception POV. Win and we are in the same thoughts of pollsters as UT (since we are 1-2 against them), lose and we are worse than a team that just got hammered twice at home by the Horns.

Sounds like UCF's coach put on quite a show. He really loves being the center of attention. Wasn't he squawking before the series about how it was the most important in the program's history or something? I think he's been reading too many motivational books.

Back to the Owls. They really need a sweep of the week both to put some distance between themselves and the rest of CUSA but also to remind the rest of the college baseball world that Rice is still a force.

So...who plays shortstop this weekend?

Russell: The OG will make that decision on Thursday. - MK

Not very hardened tonight in Collie Station.

After a humbling loss, we need to win the weekend series that much more. It's a tough test, for sure. Besides the fact that ECU is tough, finals are approaching and bringing with them ample "distractions." Stay tuned...

So, if we do slide Rick off of SS, does that mean Abe is going to play everyday at 1B or does Rick fit in there? We really need Abe to be fresh for his bullpen work and having him out in the field does not seem to be the best way to do that. He is our most consistent bullpen arm and to lose the ability to use him 2 of 3 or all 3 days on the mound would hurt us even more.

Going to be tough for the OG to juggle if he does decide to pull the plug on Slick Rick at SS.

Russell: No way Gonzo becomes the everyday first baseman. If Hague is benched, the move will be temporary. They can't win big with Hague at DH long term. - MK

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