Owls and Cougars Looking Good for Postseason Success
The regular season's over for the Rice Owls and Houston Cougars baseball teams. Both teams are poised at or near the top of their conferences, riding hot streaks into their respective conference tournaments starting Wednesday. And if things go right this week, both teams are primed to host regionals in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Screencap from Riceowls.com The Owls hope this week starts the return to Omaha.
The Owls, at 37-17, are the highest ranked collegiate baseball team in the state. The team just won its 19th consecutive conference title while winning 15 of its final 20 games. The Owls, as always, are expected to win the C-USA tournament being played in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with the hope that a tournament win will not only make them a regional host, but will make the team a national host, meaning that they'd host a Super Regional the next week before heading off to Omaha and the College World Series.
The Cougars, at 41-14, are just below the Owls in the national rankings. The Cougars finished in third place in the inaugural American Athletic Conference baseball season. The Cougars are considered to be pretty much a lock for the NCAA postseason, but winning the tournament, starting on Wednesday in Clearwater, Florida, might be enough to get UH a host spot for the regionals.
The season was a bit of a struggle for the Owls. They lost two members of the starting rotation for most of conference play (Jordan Stephens to Tommy John surgery and Zech Lemond to arm problems), and key position players battled through injuries so severe that even Lisbeth Salander's half-brother would feel actual pain. Then came the team's annual midseason slump, where nobody could hit, the pitching let down just a touch and the defense had some execution difficulties. But the Owls did what the Owls always do. They overcame the rough patch and started winning games.
Blake Fox picked up the pitching slack, going 11-0 for the season with a 1.39 ERA in 13 starts. Kevin McCana went 6-3 in 10 starts. The offense was perhaps the best Rice offense since the days of Anthony Rendon. Catcher John Clay Reeves handled the staff with ease while turning into an on-base machine, hitting .337 in 193 at-bats and scoring 30 runs on 65 hits with seven doubles, six homers and 36 RBI on a .477 slugging percentage. First baseman Skyler Ewing had 11 doubles and seven homers while hitting .316 and collecting 42 RBI. Senior outfielder Michael Aquino's bat heated up at the end of the season, ending up with 16 doubles, five homers, 35 RBI and a .464 slugging percentage.