Rice poised to run through Houston Regional


Houston Regional

1. Rice (50-10) -- 12th appearance, automatic, won Conference USA regular season and tournament, No. 2 national seed
2. Arizona State (36-19) -- 30th appearance, at-large, Pacific-10
3. Baylor (35-24) -- 13th appearance, at-large, Big 12
4. Prairie View A&M (33-20) -- First appearance, won Southwestern Athletic tournament

Houston Regional schedule
At Reckling Park
Friday, June 2
Game 1 -- Rice 6, Prairie View 5
Game 2 -- Arizona State (36-19) vs. Baylor (35-24), susp., rain
Saturday, June 3
Game 2 -- Baylor 3, Arizona State 2
Game 3 -- Arizona State 13, Prairie View 4
Sunday, June 4
Game 4 -- Rice 7, Baylor 2
Game 5 -- Baylor 7, Arizona State 2
Monday, June 5
Game 6 -- Rice 7, Baylor 4
Rice (53-10) advances to the super regional round.

Houston Regional notes

Rice led the nation in wins and dropped just two games after March. Pitching, as usual, is the key for the Owls, who led the nation with 552 strikeouts and 9.4 per nine innings. Left-handed closer Cole St. Clair punched out 88 batters in 62 innings, while right-hander Eddie Degerman led the rotation with an 11-1 record, 1.80 ERA and 136-43 K-BB ratio in 105 innings courtesy of a 12-to-6 curveball he delivers from a straight-over-the-top arm stroke that perplexes hitters. Shoulder tendinitis limited sophomore Joe Savery to 57 innings a year after his Freshman of the Year performance. He hasn't gone more than three innings since returning from missing a month and half. Savery has remained in the lineup at first base (.332-7-57), and while his absence from the mound allowed Rice to develop depth in the rotation, he'll be needed if Rice is to replicate its 2003 national title. Rice clubbed 144 doubles and 67 homers, led by shortstop Brian Friday's 20 doubles and .379 average, and 13 jacks from freshman outfielder Aaron Luna.

Arizona State fielded a much younger team than the one that wore Cinderella's glass slipper to Omaha a year ago. Pat Murphy mixed and matched arms all season, with 11 pitchers making starts and 10 working at least 28 innings, but none topping 60 innings. It worked as the Sun Devils ranked 15th nationally with more than eight strikeouts per nine innings, led by senior right-hander Tony Barnett, whose 5.09 season ERA doesn't tell his story; his Pac-10 record of 5-0, with a 3.51 ERA, does. ASU led the Pac-10 in average and runs, with freshman Brett Wallace (.395-4-18 in Pac-10 games) and sophomore Eric Sogard (.354-4-29 in Pac-10 games) coming on strong late. Freshman first baseman Ike Davis led the Pac-10 with 65 RBI and was named the conference freshman of the year. Arizona State is one of seven teams to beat Rice on the year and it upset top-ranked Cal State Fullerton on the road last year in super regionals, so don't be surprised if it emerges from this bracket.

Like Jose Reyes, Baylor likes triples. The Bears tallied 32 three-base hits, more than any team in the regional field. Senior right fielder Seth Fortenberry led the way with a Big 12-best 10 triples, while adding nine doubles and nine homers for a nifty .590 slugging percentage. He and senior catcher Zach Dillon (.510 on-base percentage) often comprised most of Baylor's offense in an up-and-down year following the school's first College World Series appearance. The Bears swept Nebraska at home in their penultimate conference series before getting swept at Kansas State to end the regular season. That partially illustrates a young team that went 27-7 at home and 8-17 away from Baylor Ballpark. Baylor opens against Arizona State, which won a three-game series at Baylor in February.

Five of the nation's top 10 teams in terms of steals per game came from the SWAC, and Prairie View A&M led the nation with 211 bags in 53 games, an average of four per game. Center fielder Calvin Lester (.345, 54-for-64 in steals) and shortstop Michael Richard (.342, 41-for-52) rank first and third individually in steals. But it's going to be hard for any the Panthers, which went 22-19 against Division I competition, to get on base enough to make use of that running game.

Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.