Rice hopes to add another national title to its trophy case, but Prairie View could pose a small threat


By Ronnie Turner The Daily Cougar

May 31, 2007

Houston, TX (CSTV U-WIRE) -- It's late May and one thing is certain: The Rice Owls and coach Wayne Graham are preparing for their yearly run at a College World Series title.

Rice (49-12) captured the Conference USA regular season and tournament championships and is set to make its 13th consecutive appearance in an NCAA Regional. For the sixth time in the last seven years, the Owls will be hosting their regional, which includes an all-Texas lineup with No. 2 seed TCU, No. 3 seed Baylor and No. 4 seed Prairie View.

Interestingly, this year's regional setup is similar to the 2006 Houston Regional. Two of the three visiting teams (Baylor and Prairie View) will make their return to Reckling Park. The Owls are again the No. 2 national seed. And the Owls have to tussle with Prairie View (34-23) in their regional opener set for 6 p.m. Friday.

The latter can't be all that intriguing for the Owls, who struggled against the small program in their last two meetings. Rice had to rally from an early four-run deficit to defeat the Panthers 6-5 in the 2006 Houston Regional. In their April 3 rematch at Reckling, the Owls again stumbled early and had to rally for a 5-4 victory.

There's no guarantee this meeting will be as thrilling as the previous two, but it's clear that the Panthers have gotten inside the Owls' heads. That's not good news for the Owls, who are favorites to advance to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

Let's be honest: Rice has three times the talent and resources of Prairie View. The Owls should lay the wood to the Panthers each time they face off. There shouldn't be any close "escapes" by Rice.

The Owls are the better team and should start playing like it.

There's always next season It was painful for Houston to watch its baseball season go down the drain over the last month, but it was even more painful for the fans who had to watch. The Cougars were one of Conference USA's worst teams during that stretch.

Houston (28-28, 12-12 C-USA) blew its postseason chances by losing 9 of 14 games to end the regular season. The Cougars limped to a fourth-place finish in C-USA and mercifully ended their campaign by going winless in two games at last week's conference tournament in Greenville, N.C. Now, the Cougars can begin planning for next season.

The good news is that Houston should have the services of junior right-handers Ricky Hargrove and Dereck Cloeren and senior outfielder Jake Stewart in 2008. Hargrove and Cloeren were largely inactive this season due to shoulder injuries, and Stewart had to undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Stewart accepted a medical redshirt, and should be good to go next season. Also, sophomore catcher/pitcher Luis Flores should be able to pitch more after battling elbow injuries this season.

Injuries to the pitching staff forced redshirt freshman Wes Musick and true freshmen Donnie Joseph and John Touchton into the starting rotation. With the exception of Musick (6-5, 3.00 ERA), the starting rotation was largely inconsistent. The return of Hargrove, Cloeren and Flores should provide stability for the pitching staff. The Cougars are set to lose three senior position starters and a pitcher, but the rest of the lineup should remain intact.

One can't guarantee the Cougars will be significantly better in 2008, but they can't possibly be much worse.

Only smart guys play baseball Five Conference USA players were named to the 2007 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America Team, as announced Wednesday. That total sets a conference record.

Southern Miss reliever Patrick Ezell and senior first baseman Trey Sutton were both named to the first team. Ezell, a history senior, holds a 3.73 GPA and is a four-time C-USA Commissioner's Honor Roll member. Sutton, a business administration junior, has a 3.75 GPA.

Rice senior pitcher Ryne Tacker, the 2007 C-USA Pitcher of the Year, and Houston senior first baseman Josh Stirneman were named to the second team. Rice junior shortstop Brian Friday was named to the third team.

(C) 2007 The Daily Cougar via CSTV U-WIRE

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