IRVING, Tex. - With three preseason all-conference players, including the Owl duo of Blake Fox and John Clay Reeves as the respective 2015 Preseason Pitcher and Player 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. 28).
All twelve of the C-USA head coaches voted Rice as the preseason favorite for 2015. Since joining the conference in 2006 the Owls have been the league favorite every year there has been a poll (officially nine-of-the-last-ten years as there was no coaches poll conducted in 2010). This season Owls return five offensive starters in the batting order and a host of veteran pitchers who helped lead last year's squad to a 42-20 overall record, the C-USA regular season and tournament titles, and to a home NCAA Regional at Reckling Park. Rice's veteran standouts, including Fox (Jr., LHP), Reeves (Sr., C), and fellow C-USA preseason honoree Matt Ditman (Jr., RHP), all have the full attention of the C-USA head coaches.
Fox earned first team All-America honors last season after leading the conference in wins (12), ranking second in ERA (1.46) and sixth in innings pitched (104.2). In addition to non-conference wins over national powers Stanford and TCU, he posted an 8-0 mark in C-USA regular season games and another victory in the C-USA Championship. The Houston native pitched into the seventh inning of a game 14 times, with a season long of 8.1. frames. He held opposing hitters to a composite .236 batting average and twice struck out eight in a single game. Fox, who was one of three finalists for the College Baseball Hall of Fame National Pitcher of the Year in 2014, is 18-0 in his collegiate career.
Reeves made an immediate impact in his first season at Rice, garnering the league's Newcomer of the Year award and earning first team all-conference honors. An outstanding defensive backstop with the hitting to match, Reeves started 56 of the Owls' 62 games. He tied for seventh in the conference in both home runs (6) and RBI (41), finished tenth in the league in batting average (.317) and slugging percentage (.439), and tied for tenth in hits (70) and total bases (97). The native of Monroe, La., batted .322 with runners on base and .372 with men in scoring position. Reeves was twice named the C-USA Hitter of the Week (March 17 and April 20) and has tallied two or more hits in a game 17 times.
Reeves and Fox were joined by reliever Matt Ditman on the preseason team, giving Rice a league-high three selections. Ditman shared the team-lead with 26 appearances, including 24 in relief while earning five victories. The Richmond, Texas, native finished among the C-USA leaders in saves (9), ERA (1.83), opponents' batting average (.198) and WHIP (0.90). Ditman was electric in averaging 10.1 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, and maintaining a 6.4-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
The Owls are ranked 13th in the country by D1Baseball.com. The squad opens the upcoming season at home against longtime rival Texas with a four-game weekend series at Reckling Park on Feb. 13-15. Season ticket packages to catch all 30 home games are available for as low as $130. Mini-plans, which allow fans to hand-pick their favorite games to attend, are also available for purchase starting as low as $35. More information and about season tickets and mini plans are available at the above link or by calling 713-348-OWLS (6957).
2015 PRESEASON BASEBALL AWARDS
(as selected by C-USA's head coaches)
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Rice (12)
3. Old Dominion
4. Southern Miss
6. Florida Atlantic
8. Middle Tennessee
12. Louisiana Tech
(first place votes in parentheses)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
John Clay Reeves, Rice (Senior, Catcher)
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Blake Fox, Rice (Junior, Left-hander)
P Blake Fox Jr. Rice
P Alex Luna Sr. UAB
P Chris Mourelle So. FIU
RP Matt Ditman Jr. Rice
C John Clay Reeves Sr. Rice
IF Josh Anderson Sr. FIU
IF Ryan Church Sr. WKU
IF P.J. Higgins Jr. Old Dominion
IF Taylor Love Jr. Louisiana Tech
IF Stephen Kerr So. Florida Atlantic
OF Jared Allen Sr. Middle Tennessee
OF Brendon Sanger Jr. Florida Atlantic
OF Nick Walker So. Old Dominion
DH/UT Matt Durst Sr. Southern Miss