6 pm: (4) Sam Houston State at (1) Rice
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(Internet features activate at game time. Remaining GameTracker links are available at the Regional Info Center
Owls Host NCAA Home Regional This Weekend At Reckling Park
The sixth-ranked Rice baseball team, 39-15 on the year and the 2009 Conference USA champions, host longtime rival Sam Houston State (36-22) at 6 pm on Friday at Reckling Park in its first round game of the NCAA Houston Regional. It is the eighth time in the last nine seasons for the Owls to host a home Regional in NCAA Championship Tournament. Regional play begins this weekend at 16 sites across the country in a double-elimination format. The 16 Regional winners advance to play in one of eight best-of-three Super Regionals getting under way the following week (June 5). The 63rd Men's College World Series begins play Saturday, June 13, in Omaha, Nebraska.
In addition to the Rice-Sam Houston State game, Big 12 power Kansas State (41-16-1) meets Atlantic 10 Champion Xavier (38-19) in the Houston Regional's opening game at 2 pm on Friday. The same four teams are back in action on Saturday with a 2 pm elimination game and a 6 pm winner's bracket game.
Get Inside The Regional With All Access - FOR FREE!
Every NCAA Regional game from Reckling Park is slated for a live web-broadcast on All Access. All Access matches the play-by-play audio with a video feed to create a television-like broadcast on the Internet (either live or in an archived format). The service has proved to be very popular with fans and alumni living throughout the world and it just got even better for the NCAA Regional at Reckling Park. Normally this is a subscription-based service, but this weekend All Access is going to be FREE with some special Regional extras. Rice will also provide free web casts of all the postgame press conferences for each team. Fans who are not current All Access subscribers will need to fill out a simple registration. Fans with existing All Access accounts need to use the links provided on the Houston Regional Info Center to get the web casts of the games and press conferences during the Regional.
Audio Broadcasts Catch The Owls On KTRU The Rest of the Season
Every Rice baseball game for the rest of the season will be broadcast live on the radio in the Houston area on KTRU (91.7 FM). Every Rice baseball game is also broadcast live around the world on the Internet at RiceOwls.com and KTRU.org. A direct connection to the audio feed is provided at the above "Listen Here" link. Veteran broadcaster J.P. Heath has the Rice call the rest of the season.
Live Stats On GameTracker
Live play-by-play text and statistics from every Rice game will be posted on RiceOwls.com. Look for the GameTracker links on either the Rice Athletics front page, the weekly series preview or the baseball schedule page.
National Ranking Update Rice No. 6 in Two Polls
At press time the latest polls from Baseball America and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) had the Owls as the No. 6 team in the nation. Six different polls all have Rice in the Top 8. The 2009 national ranking roll call is as follows....
Baseball America 6th
USA Today/ESPN Coaches 7th
Collegiate Baseball 8th
PG Crosschecker.com 10th
Why so high? The polls are paying attention, that's why. Rice is 9-3 against ranked teams, including five wins against foes that were in the Top 10 at the time. Two wins were against teams that were rated No. 1 in the nation at the time (Texas A&M and Texas). The Owls have also played and defeated a host of quality opponents that received bids to the 2009 NCAA Tournament - Texas (twice), East Carolina (twice), Baylor, Washington State, Cal Poly and Southern Miss (three times)... A closer look at the team's 15 losses is also in order. Two of the losses were on the road on the opening weekend of the season against a Cal Poly team has been ranked among the nation's Top 25 teams for most of the season. Three other losses were to then nationally-ranked Texas A&M, San Diego and East Carolina, and another two were to '09 NCAA Tournament teams Oral Roberts, Texas State and Sam Houston State. Five of the team's losses were by a narrow two (or-fewer) runs... Rice was also without its top two pitchers, Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala for the better part of five weeks but still was a full 20 games over .500.
15-Straight NCAA Appearances
Rice is making its 15th-consecutive trip to the NCAA Championship, the fourth-longest active streak in Division I. Here is a look at the longest active streaks:
37 Miami (Fla.)
32 Florida State
18 Cal State Fullerton
15 Rice Owls
Head Coach Wayne Graham
Four-time national coach of the year and Texas Sports Hall of Fame inductee Wayne Graham (Texas, 1970) is in his 18th season at Rice... In the March 20 win over Southern Miss (4-3) in Hattiesburg, Coach Graham reached another career milestone. He won his 800th game at the helm of the Rice program... He is now 826-314 with the Owls (502-108 at home, 247-162 in road games and 76-45 at neutral sites). His Rice winning percentage is .725, the best in school history. Another way of looking at Graham's .725 win percentage is that it is the equivalent of a major league team winning 117 games in a single year - then winning 117 games a year for 17+ years in a row... Graham's record against the teams in the NCAA Houston Regional is as follows: 27-12 vs. Sam Houston State (19-5 home, 8-7 road), 1-0 vs. Kansas State (neutral) and 0-0 vs. Xavier... Under Graham, the Owls clinched another postseason bid in 2009, making 15-straight seasons for Rice to earn an NCAA appearance. The 2003 bid culminated with the Owls' first national championship. Rice played in the 1994-95-96 Southwest Conference tournaments (winning the final league title in '96), won the 1997-98-99 WAC tournaments, shared the 2000 WAC title with San Jose State before winning the 2001-02-03-04-05 titles outright. He won the C-USA regular season crowns in 2006, 2007 and 2008, as well as the C-USA tournament championships in `06, '07 and `08. Rice has advanced into the NCAA tournament in 1995-96-97-98-99-00-01-02-03-04-05-06-07-08-09... Graham was named the WAC Coach of the Year in 1998, '99, '02 and the Co-Coach of the Year in '03. He was named the Keith LeClair C-USA Coach of the Year in `06, his first year in the league, and again in `07 and `08... Rice has seven appearances in the NCAA College World Series under Graham (1997, '99, `02, `03, `06, `07, `08)... Graham has led the Owls to number-one rankings for seven weeks during the 1999 season, for six weeks during the '01 campaign, two weeks in '02, six weeks in 2003 (the last of which established some staying power), three weeks in 2004, 12 weeks in 2006 and five weeks in `07... Graham's San Jacinto Gators dominated the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo., in the 1980s, winning five national titles in six years (1985-86-87, 89-90)... The Austin American-Statesman named Graham its SWC Coach of the Year in '95 after he led the Owls to their first NCAA tournament appearance... Collegiate Baseball was especially cognizant of Graham's efforts at San Jac. He was named the newspaper's Coach of the Decade for all levels in the 1980s after winning those five junior college national titles, and CB tabbed him the NJCAA Coach of the Century... He was named the 2007 Division I college Coach of the Year by FieldTurf... One of the few current collegiate coaches to have played in the major leagues (N.Y. Mets in 1963, Philadelphia in 1964), Graham is aided by assistant coaches Mike Taylor (Prairie View A&M, 1997; ninth year), David Pierce (Houston, 1988; seventh year), Patrick Hallmark (Rice, 1995; fourth year)... The program's "new dads" coach the bases on game-days: Taylor coaches at third base this year while Hallmark coaches at first base.
1,401 Wins A Baseball Odyssey
Wayne Graham owns 826 career wins at Rice, but his career victories tally to 1,401 when you include his 11 years at San Jacinto North College where he won five national championships. Graham's overall collegiate record is 1,401-427 in a 28-year career that began in 1981.
To help place Coach Graham's achievements in perspective, consider that Rice started its baseball program in 1913 and in the 76 seasons where there are verified won-loss records (Rice is missing a few W-L totals from those early days), the Owls won a total of 838 games. In the 17+ years since 1992 when Graham was named the head coach, the Owls have won 826 games. It's only taken Graham 17+ years to accomplish essentially what it took the program more than three-quarters of a century to do before he got here.
Friday's showdown with Sam Houston State marks Rice's 100th game in the NCAA Tournament, including Regionals, Super Regionals and the College World Series. All of Rice's previous NCAA Tournament games have been under the direction of Coach Graham. His record in the "The Dance" is 66-33.
Feeling Right At Home In Reckling Park Regionals
Since its first one in 2001, Rice's record when playing in home NCAA Regionals at Reckling Park is 22-4 (.846). The Owls have a streak of nine-straight wins in home regionals dating back to 2004.
12-Straight Regional Wins Overall
Rice has a streak of nine-straight wins in home regionals, but that is short-changing it a little. The Owls have 12-straight wins at the regional-level when including the 3-0 performance at the Baton Rouge, La., Regional in 2005.
When Facing The Best
Rice is 9-3 in games against nationally-ranked opponents. The Owls have out-hit the ranked foes by 20 points (.271 to .251) and maintained a 3.58 ERA in those 12 games against the country's elite teams.
We Know Who's Dancin'
If you need any authoritative insight on the 2009 NCAA bracket just ask Rice. The Owls have played 20 games against 10 different teams in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Blue & Gray is 12-8 against almost one-sixth of the 64-team field.
Anthony Rendon Named A National Semifinalist For Two Top Awards
Rice true freshman Anthony Rendon has been named a national semifinalist for two of college/amateur baseball's top awards. The Owls' young star from nearby Lamar High School is one of the 16 national semifinalists for the 2009 Dick Howser Trophy as the top college player and one of 30 national semifinalists for the for the 2009 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award as the nation's premier amateur player... The Howser Trophy is awarded from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) in conjunction with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the College Baseball Foundation. The Golden Spikes Award has been presented by USA Baseball for the past 31 years... Rendon has had a sensational debut season a the Division I level, leading Conference USA in home runs (19) and leading the team in batting average (.375), RBI (64), hits (81), slugging percentage (.704) and on-base average (.451). He's also among the team leaders in runs (54), doubles (12) and steals (9).
Rendon Headlines C-USA Honors
On the eve of the 2009 Conference USA Baseball Championship Anthony Rendon became the first player in C-USA history to be named Freshman of the Year and Player of the Year in the same season, headlining a lengthy list of Rice award winners announced by the league office on May 19 in Hattiesburg, Miss... A total of seven Owl players were recognized for their success on the diamond the day before taking the field in C-USA's annual week-long championship tournament. All the award winners, including Rendon with two of the top honors the league can bestow, and Ryan Berry (first team starting pitcher) were selected on a vote of the league's head coaches, sports information directors and a media representative from each city. Rick Hague (inf), Chad Mozingo (of), Mike Ojala (sp) and Jordan Rogers (rp) were named to the C-USA second team while Rendon and Taylor Wall (sp) were named to the league's all-freshman squad.
Comerota Named To C-USA All-Academic Team
IRVING, Tex. - Rice junior first baseman Jimmy Comerota has been named to the 2009 Conference USA All-Academic Baseball Team, the league announced Monday (May 18) from its headquarters in Irving, Tex... The C-USA all-academic team consists of student-athletes with a 3.2 cumulative grade point average or better and are a starter or key reserve for their team. The members were voted upon by the league's sports information directors... Comerota is making a second-consecutive appearance on the C-USA All-Academic Team as an economics and sport management major with a 3.26 GPA. The junior infielder has started all but three of the Owls' games this season and maintained a .282 batting average with 44 runs scored. He has 10 steals, a .374 on-base average and leads the team with 10 sacrifice bunts. Comerota was a 2008 CoSIDA/ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District VI Second Team honoree and is a three-time C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll member.
Here's Who's Hot
Shortstop Rick Hague enjoyed a good Championship where he is hit .438 (7-for-16) with two walks for a .500 on-base percentage. Hague also had a double, a stolen base, sacrifice bunt and has scored six times at the tourney... Junior switch-hitter Diego Seastrunk had a productive C-USA Championship where he went 6-for-14 (.429) with three walks, six RBI, three runs scored and a sacrifice fly... Sophomore left fielder Michael Fuda is in a sensational stretch, hitting .391 (9-of-23) with two doubles for a .478 slugging percentage. Fuda has driven-in six of his 16 RBI in the last five games... Junior second baseman Brock Holt has been hitting at a .378 pace (14-of-37) over the last eight games. In that time Holt has two home runs and two doubles for a .595 slugging percentage. He has also driven-in a team-best 12 runs and scored nine times in the last eight games... True freshman Anthony Rendon enters the NCAA Tournament with a modest (for him) batting average (.350), but a particularly heavy slugging pace over the last five games. In that time the young star from Houston's Lamar High School has smashed three home runs, a double and a triple for an .950 slugging percentage. Rendon has also been walked four times in the five games for a .458 on-base average... If you're only as hot as your last game (or last at bat), keep an eye on junior first baseman Jimmy Comerota who was 1-for-3 with the game-winning RBI in the Owls C-USA Championship win Sunday at Southern Miss.
The Fuda Fighter, Learns To Fly
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise the second half of the season has been the play of sophomore left fielder Michael Fuda. Fuda began the year hitting .120 in limited duty, but was inserted into the starting lineup around the start of conference play and has responded with a lofty .363 batting average and 23 runs scored in 20 C-USA starts. His slugging percentage in the second half of the season has been a steady .560. Not only is Fuda second on the team in doubles (8) for conference-only games, he has been sensational in the outfield. In addition to tremendous range, the Katy, Tex., native has recorded three defensive assists by throwing-out runners on the basepaths.
Against The Wall
Taylor Wall has been in Owls' weekend rotation since the season began at Cal Poly, and the first-year player now leads the staff in starts (14), innings pitched (85.0) and strikeouts (73). A Houston prep star from Westside High School, Wall has continued to improve over the course of the 2009 season. He has averaged 5.2 innings in his 14 Division I starts and he's held opposing batters to a composite .248 average. Wall also finished second in the conference for strikeouts in C-USA games (47). His most-recent outing was a terrific 5.2 innings in front of a rowdy road crowd at Southern Miss (May 24) in the C-USA Championship final where he scattered just three hits. He left with a 4-0 lead but his teammates in the bullpen couldn't hold it for him. Only four days before, Wall pitched a brilliant 7-inning complete game shutout in the opening round of the C-USA Tournament against heavy-hitting Marshall. Wall has pitched very well in several starts, but hasn't had the same offensive and defensive support that the other Owl pitchers have enjoyed. Consider that the Rice offense has hit 24 points lower (.323 to .299) and averaged fewer than five runs per game in 12 of his 14 starts. That's not all. Rice's slugging average is 90 points lower (.507 to .417) and the team's fielding average is 14 points lower (.974 to .960) in Wall's starts than when other pitchers start on the hill. It is fair to say the young freshman could have a much better record than 6-5 with a little more hitting and fielding support. The Conference coaches voted him to the C-USA All-Freshman team.
A Berry, Berry, Welcome Return
Rice junior right-hander Ryan Berry was sidelined for more than a month before returning to duty on April 29 (vs. Texas A&M-Corpus Christi). Since then 2009 first team all-conference honoree has been sound and solid, going 3-0 in four starts and earning one save in six appearances overall. Berry has a total of 30.0 innings since his return and has maintained a 1.80 ERA with 25 strikeouts. The standout from Humble, Tex., has held opposing hitters to a composite .198 batting average with one complete game in the C-USA Tournament (May 21 vs. UAB). He also threw the final inning in the championship game to earn his first career save in 51 career appearances at Rice.
"O" The Places You'll Go
Junior Mike Ojala was sidelined from April 18 to May 9, but has now pitched three times and increased his work-load in consecutive starts against UCF (May 10), UAB (May 16) and Houston (May 22, in the semifinals of the C-USA Tournament). "O" was in control against the crosstown rival Cougars and pitched into the sixth inning for his longest outing since the March 12 win over San Diego. In the three starts since his return, Ojala allowed just three earned runs in 12.2 innings for a 2.13 ERA. The Kingwood, Tex., star has held opposing hitters to a .208 batting average and struck out 13 in the 12.2 frames. The C-USA coaches had seen enough to vote him second team all-conference.
Previous Rice Outing Owls Win C-USA Title With 8-6 Win At Southern Miss
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Michael Fuda and Jimmy Comerota sparked a two-out, two-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning then hung on for an 8-6 victory over Southern Miss in the Championship Final of the Conference USA Tournament May 24 at Pete Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, Miss. Not only did the Owls clinch the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Rice baseball program won its 14th-straight conference title dating back to 1996... The tournament setting allowed the Owls to play as the home team in the Golden Eagles' home venue. After the two-run rally in the eighth, junior Ryan Berry retired USM in the top of the ninth to earn his first career save. It closed-out Rice's 39th win of the season... After Ryan Lewis was hit by a pitch to start the Rice eighth. Fuda sprinted down the line to beat-out a USM throw on the back end of a double play attempt. Steven Sultzbaugh then hit a slow grounder on the grass to the left side, but Fuda's speed allowed him to go from first to an open third base that was left uncovered on the play. With two away, Comerota was safe on a single after alertly diving head-first for the base and wisely avoiding a tag from a slightly high throw. Comerota's heads-up hustle allowed Fuda to score easily and the Owls were in front 7-6. Comerota scored the final run of the game on a ball to the outfield by Brock Holt... It capped a wild Championship Final that saw USM twice come back and tie the game after the Owls had taken the lead. Rice jumped on the scoreboard for a pair of runs in the bottom of the bottom of the first inning. Rick Hague hit a pitch into the hole on the left side of the infield for a base hit. With two away, rookie sensation Anthony Rendon then blasted a 3-2 pitch just to the left of the centerfield fence for an early 2-0 lead. The homer was Rendon's team-leading 19th of the season and tied for the seventh-most by an Owl in a single-season in school history... The Blue & Gray added two more in the bottom of the fifth. Fuda bunted for a base hit to lead it off and Holt singled after a one-out walk to Comerota. The Golden Eagles appeared to be working their way out of the bases-loaded jam, but a fielding miscue scooted through the left side of the infield. Fuda and Comerota scored to stretch the margin to 4-0... Southern Miss came right back and rallied for four runs in the top of the sixth, all with two outs already in the inning. Corey Stephens doubled and consecutive walks to Kameron Brunty and Joey Archer loaded the bases. Tyler Koelling hit a double into the left field corner that scored two. The Owls couldn't hold on to the ball on the final throw back into the infield and a third run scored with Koelling advancing to third. He came home on a base hit to right and it was a new game at 4-4... The outburst still couldn't take away from another solid outing by freshman left-hander Taylor Wall. After a complete game shutout on Wednesday, Wall started on three days rest and fired another 5.0 complete shutout innings before being charged with his first run of the tournament. He allowed just three hits and three walks while striking out two but did not figure in the decision... After 10 days on the road Rice would not go away so easily and regained the lead after the seventh-inning stretch. Holt reached on an infield single and Hague punched a base hit through the right side. Diego Seastrunk lined a double down the right field line to score both men and put the Owls back on top 6-4. The Golden Eagles used the longball to tie it back up in the eighth. Stephens drew a leadoff walk and Brunty slugged a home run over the right field wall to tie it at 6-6. That was all the damage done, setting the stage for the final inning-and-a-half... Individually six Owls were honored with selection to the All-Tournament team, including Rendon as the Most Valuable Player. Ryan Berry, Diego Seastrunk, Steven Sultzbaugh, Rick Hague and Taylor Wall all were voted to the league's all-tourney squad.
Both of Rice's seniors on the roster, Jordan Rogers and Jess Buenger, walked in the University's formal graduation ceremony on May 9 to pick up their respective degrees. Buenger, a .350 career hitter against C-USA opponents, graduated with a degree in Sports Management. This season Jordan Rogers is 7-3 with a team-leading seven saves. Give yourself a prize if you can guess Rogers' Rice major (answer at the end of this preview!).
Freshman Home Runs
Rookie Anthony Rendon hit a home run Sunday against Southern Miss in the C-USA Championship game for his team-leading 19th homer of the season. The blast broke his own Rice school record for most home runs hit by an Owl freshman. Rendon recently passed MLB draft pick Aaron Luna who had 16 homers in his freshman year of 2006 and sits at the top of an impressive list of Owl freshman home run leaders. The group includes Luna (a ninth-round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals last summer) and Jose Cruz, Jr., who had 13 homers as a freshman in 1993 and went on to play a dozen years in the major leagues. The fourth-place Owl on the frosh homer list, Bubba Crosby, ended up (like Cruz, Jr.) being a first-round pick in the draft who reached the major leagues. Vincent Sinisi hit 11 round-trippers in his redshirt freshman season in 2002. A year later Sinisi helped lead the Blue & Gray to the NCAA National Championship... Rendon has twice hit two home runs in a single game. Here are the Rice frosh leaders for four-masters.
1. Anthony Rendon 19, 2009
2. Aaron Luna 16, 2006
3. Jose Cruz, Jr. 13, 1993
4. Bubba Crosby 12, 1996
5. Vincent Sinisi 11, 2002
Rice Single Season Home Runs
Anthony Rendon set the Rice freshman home run record, so now it's on to bigger and better things. His 19 round-trippers is the seventh-most by a Rice player in a single season and the most homers by any Owl since Jason Gray hit 20 in 1999. The rookie needs only one more home run to tie Gray and Lance Berkman (20 as a sophomore in 1996) for fifth on the school's single season list. Right now Berkman's single-season school record of 41 homers in 1997 appears to be safe for another year.
Their Country Is Calling
Sophomore shortstop Rick Hague and freshman third baseman Anthony Rendon are two of the first 17 invitees named to the 2009 USA Baseball National Team Trials to be held in Cary, North Carolina, June 15-24. The duo will have a chance to represent their country as members of Team USA in games against international competition later this summer. USA Baseball, the United States' governing body for international baseball competition, announced the first 17 of 36 eventual invitees to the 2009 National Team Trials. The Trials will be held at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The invitees will compete for a spot on the final 22-man roster to be announced on June 24. The most-recent Rice Owl to play for Team USA was right-handed pitcher Ryan Berry in the summer of 2007. Berry went 2-1 in seven appearances for the United States, including the Pan American Games held in Brazil.
Jordan Rogers graduated with a degree in Classical Studies/Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations. Now that's a Rice student!