By: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics Dept. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
IRVING, Tex. - With two preseason all-conference players, including Blake Fox as the 2016 Preseason Pitcher of the Year, the Rice baseball team was picked to finish first in the league in the annual Conference USA head coaches' poll the C-USA office announced on Wednesday (Jan. 27).
All twelve of the C-USA head coaches voted Rice as the preseason favorite for 2016. Since joining the conference in 2006 the Owls have been the league favorite every year there has been a poll (officially ten-of-the-last-11 years as there was no coaches poll conducted in 2010). This season the Owls return six offensive starters in the batting order and a host of veteran pitchers who helped lead last year's squad to a 37-22 overall record, the C-USA regular season title, and to an NCAA Regional appearance. Rice's veteran standouts, including Fox (Sr., LHP) and fellow C-USA preseason honoree Ryan Chandler (So., CF), have the full attention of the C-USA head coaches. Under the direction of head coach Wayne Graham, Rice Baseball has won or shared a conference regular season or tournament title in each of the last 20-straight years. The team has been to the NCAA Tournament 21-straight years, the fourth-longest active streak in the nation.
In 50 career appearances, including 32 collegiate starts, Fox is 26-2 all-time with a 2.45 ERA in 220.2 career innings. The left-hander from Bellaire Episcopal High School finished third in Conference USA with eight wins and was eighth in ERA (3.30) for pitchers with at least the same number of innings (79.0). He led the Rice staff in wins and shared the team lead in starts (15). Fox finished the year strong when the team needed him most, posting a composite 1.52 ERA with a .226 opponents' batting average over his final five starts the last month of the season.
Last season Chandler earned a host of honors in a solid Division I debut, including Freshman All-America by Collegiate Baseball and C-USA Freshman of the Year from the league head coaches. The former Houston Strake Jesuit star hit .302 for the full season and was electric in the Owls' NCAA Tournament games, going 8-for-18 (.444) with a pair of doubles, four RBI and three runs scored - including what proved to be the game-winning run from first base in the dramatic 20-inning victory at 2 am. Chandler batted first in the order 51 times, the most for an Owl at leadoff since eventual MLB All-Star Brock Holt batted first 57 times for the Blue & Gray in 2009.
Rice Baseball season tickets for a challenging slate of 31 regular season games are available in all sections of Reckling Park and start as low as $125. The Owls open the 2016 season at home on Feb. 19 against Pac-12 power Arizona. The talented lineup of teams also visiting Rice in 2016 are Houston, Texas A&M, TCU, Charlotte, Dallas Baptist, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Lamar, Old Dominion, Sam Houston State, Texas State, UAB, UCF and Western Kentucky.
For 2016 season ticket information including seating levels, pricing options and parking, link here or call the Rice Ticket Office at 713-522-OWLS (6957). Don't miss any of the excitement; get your 2016 season tickets now!
2016 PRESEASON BASEBALL AWARDS
(as selected by C-USA's head coaches)
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH (first place votes in parentheses)
1. Rice (12)
2. Florida Atlantic
3. Southern Miss
5. Old Dominion
7. Middle Tennessee
11. Louisiana Tech
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
CJ Chatham, Florida Atlantic (Junior, Infielder)
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Blake Fox, Rice (Junior, Left-hander)
P: Chase Boster, Sr., Marshall
P: Blake Fox, Sr., Rice
P: Sam Sinnen, Jr., Old Dominion
RP: Thomas Lowery, Jr., UAB
C: Esteban Tresgallo, Sr., UAB
IF: CJ Chatham, Jr., Florida Atlantic
IF: Danny Hudzina, Sr., WKU
IF: Tim Lynch, Sr., Southern Miss
IF: Zach Rutherford, So., Old Dominion
OF: Corey Bird, Jr., Marshall
OF: Brad Jarreau, Sr., Middle Tennessee
OF: Connor Myers, Sr., Old Dominion
OF: Ryan Chandler, So., Rice
DH/UT: Brett Lashley, Sr., Florida Atlantic