Road To Omaha Begins ... In Austin

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There wasn't much suspense behind the decision made by the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee to send the Owls to Austin for the NCAA Tournament. 2 Rice (38-21) will open the Austin Regional against 3 Louisiana-Lafayette (37-20) on Friday at 1 at The Disch. The Ragin Cajuns were regular-season co-champions of the Sun Belt along with FAU, and both clubs, in addition to Sun Belt tournament champion FIU, earned NCAA Tournament berths. What does it say about Conference USA that the Sun Belt garnered two at-large berths while, had Rice defeated Southern Miss Saturday night at Cougar Field, C-USA would have had just its lone automatic bid? It says that 2010 was a down season for a supposed league on the rise.

ULaLa is sure to throw Sr. RHP Zach Osborne (8-4, 2.56 ERA, .227 BAA, 1.01 WHIP) at the Owls (Rice is 28-12 vs. RHP). In fact, the Cajuns have just two LHPs among their top six in innings pitched (Jr. T.J Geith, Jr. Taylor Hubbell), so expect to see righties out of the ULaLa bullpen should Osborne struggle, including Jr. Joey Satriano and/or So. Dayton Marze. The Cajuns are like a poor coach's version of host 1 Texas - pitching-rich (3.39 ERA, .251 BAA, 1.24 WHIP, 406:240 K:BB/HBP) and offense-starved (.294/.374/.438 with 45 home runs). They are 100-for-124 in stolen bases, but their fielding percentage (.966) doesn't support their strong pitching. With minimal power and plus speed, it's clear what the Cajuns want to do on offense, and with an average of 7.1 Ks/9IP and just 240 free passes in 515.2 IP, their M.O. on the mound is obvious. Rice must focus on Louisiana, not Texas, this week in workouts.

The usual Cajuns lineup features three lefthanded batters, including Sr. CF Kyle Olasin atop the order and Jr. DH/IF Jordan Poirrier in the 3-hole. So. LF Alex Fuselier, a former two-way player, is the remaining lefty, and he typically bats somewhere in the middle of the order. Sr. C Chad Keefer (.333/.383/.591 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs) is the thumper and bats cleanup. This lineup screams for Owls. Sr. RHP Jared Rogers (8-1, 4.10 ERA, .277 BAA, 1.28 WHIP) to get the start and, coincidentally, it was Rogers who started against the Cajuns the last time these two programs met on March 12, 2009. Rogers' line: 5.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K.

ULaLa (RPI: 44; ISR: 51; SoS: 97) has won 23 of its last 27 games, but went 2-&-Q in the Sun Belt tournament. The Cajuns dropped 2-of-3 against Southern Miss on March 5-7 and are 4-6 against the RPI top 50 and 15-17 against the top 100. They finished 21-9 in the Sun Belt.

This is the first time since 2005 that the Owls will hit the road for regional play. That season, with four freshmen in its starting lineup (1B Joe Savery, LF Jordan Dodson, CF Tyler Henley and C Danny Lehmann), Rice beat host LSU twice to take the Baton Rouge Regional before falling to No. 1 national seed Tulane in three games at the New Orleans Super Regional. The current lineup is almost a complete reversal of the '05 order with six of nine starters draft-eligible. Only So. DH Jeremy Rathjen, So. 3B Anthony Rendon and Fr. 2B Michael Ratterree are sure to return next season, so it will be interesting to see how these veterans handle the task of trying to stun No. 2 national seed UT at The Disch. More on that on the mothersite.

Some other tidbits from the Field of 64: The Austin Regional is paired with the Fort Worth Regional featuring 1 TCU, 2 Baylor, 3 Arizona and 4 Lamar. The Bears' late run in the Big XII and to the tournament title game likely earned their inclusion in the field, and in the minds of many, the Wildcats were the last team in. Lamar won the Southland tournament title. ... The Owls were one dropped fly ball away from winning their series at San Diego, which is the 2-seed at the Tempe Regional hosted by No. 1 national seed Arizona State. ... ACC regular-season champs and 2009 College World Series participant Virginia was inexplicably dropped to the No. 5 national seed, and will host 2 Ole Miss and National Pitcher of the Year candidate Jr. LHP Drew Pomeranz. ... The Los Angeles Regional earns 'Group of Death' distinction with No. 6 national seed UCLA, defending national champion (and SEC tournament champion) LSU, and UC Irvine, an annual threat to reach the CWS, serving as the top three seeds. Amazingly, ESPN will not broadcast from LA, option instead to feature the Fullerton Regional of 1 Cal State Fullerton, 2 Stanford, 3 New Mexico and 4 Minnesota. ... 

UConn is the lone 2-seed hosting, with 1 Florida State and 3 Oregon traveling to the Northeast in yet another attempt to 'grow the game' by the Committee. ... C-USA tournament champion Southern Miss is the 3-seed at the Auburn Regional featuring 1 Auburn, 2 Clemson and 4 Jacksonville State. ... It's clear that the check from the Oklahoma athletic department did not bounce because the Committee awarded the Sooners, arguably one of the final teams to earn a hosting slot, with a regional featuring an overseeded 2 (California) and a 3 that failed to make its conference tournament (North Carolina). At least 4 Oral Roberts is capable of stirring up some trouble at the Norman Regional. ... Georgia Tech over South Carolina as a national seed isn't that big a deal outside of the fact that it means the ACC had two national seeds as compared to one for the SEC (No. 3 Florida). Both leagues, along with the Pac-10, placed a whopping eight teams in the Field of 64. No. 4 Coastal Carolina reps the mid majors.

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MK, I don't see how ULaLa screams Jay Rogers any more than Taylor Wall. Given his signature changeup, Taylor is usually more effective against right-hand hitters, as well. Furthermore, as a southpaw, he's probably better positioned to hold the speedy Ragin Cajun runners close to 1B. I'd stick with our set rotation-- starting with Taylor against ULaLa, Ojala in Game 2 (hopefully against the Longhorns) and Rogers in Game 3, with Boogie held in reserve for a potential Game 4. The good news is that the Ragin Cajun lineup matches up very well (save for Poirrier) for Mark Haynes, should he be needed for long/middle relief.

Osborne has had an exceptional year, and has outstanding control (and likes to work the ball inside and out); however, given ULaLa's #97th ranked SoS, it's highly unlikely he faced a lineup even remotely as potent as the Owls.

BTW, you're misinterpreting their defense, which has been very, very good. Take away the 15 errors committed by Poirrier, who has been relegated to strictly DH the past month, and the Ragin Cajuns have a Fielding% above .972. Their catcher has a gun for an arm (37% caught stealing) and has only allowed 5 passed balls...and their three outfielders might even be speedier and have more range than our athletic trio.

Walt: I'd gladly take Rogers against those six righties plus his ability to work that slider in on lefties. When his breaking ball is sharp lefthanded hitters have a difficult time either squaring it up or avoiding the ground ball to the right side of the infield. Also, I like having Wall available for a potential second matchup with Texas. I believe that this staff will have him ready for a rematch, and he should feel confident based on how splendidly he pitched against that lineup on March 5. Opponents are 5-for-6 against Wall and 9-for-10 against Rogers, so neither is exceptional at holding runners. As for the Cajuns' defense, specifically Keefer, teams have only attempted 35 steals against him. With how infrequently the Owls have run of late, I don't think it factors into the game one way or another. - MK

No doubt about it... the most important game is the first game. Everything else pales. We have to beat ULaLa before we can worry about UT.

MK, if the OG does decide to go with Jared, would there be any concern about him being a bit slow to home place against a team that likes to run? I do think his stuff fits against U-La-La's lineup.

Russell: Rogers started twice against the Coogs and wasn't victimized by their running game in the least. And UH's speed (89-for-115) is nothing to sniff at. - MK

MK, I agree with you on throwing Rogers vs. ULL. I'd like to save Wall and Ojala for the potential Texas matchups. Rogers has probably been the better pitcher this year, but Wall has more big game experience and past success against the Horns.

Rice will have to beat UT 2 of 3 (or 2 of 2). So, I would suggest focusing on achieving this.

So, I think we should save Wall, Ojala, and Rogers for games against UT. I would start Boogie or Chargois against ULaLa.

You can argue how important game one is (and I agree) and how certain pitchers match up against the opponent (point taken), but we need to rely on our hitting to thrash the Rajun Cajuns.

Texas pitching is so deep that we must beat them the first time we play them and send them into the loser's bracket. Otherwise, we will run out of pitching.

If the #2 seeds win the regional tournaments at both Austin & Fort Worth, does Rice or Baylor host the Super Regionals? How is this determined?

Bev: In all likelihood Rice is the higher No. 2 seed (according to RPI), so the Owls would host. - MK

Points taken by Cicis Owls. If we intend to advance past the Regional then we must plan to win it all. If the OG thinks we can beat ULaLa with Boogie or Chargois then I say go with that plan. I'm just glad we have Wayne in our dugout making these decisions for us. As they say, that's why he makes the big bucks.

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