Rice-TxSt: Beware of the Owls

By Glenn Tanner - February 06, 2007


Word association time!

Riiiiiiice…

Loaded.


The top-ranked Owls annually have one of the top pitching staffs in the country, but this year the batting order is really filled with sticks. Joe Savery actually fits into both those categories.

Savery was the national Freshman of the Year in 2005, but injuries limited his numbers last season, particularly on the mound. Arm troubles finally shut down Savery on the hill in April, which proved devastating to the Owls’ CWS title hopes. With a healthy arm, a powerful bat, and good glove at first, Savery starts the season at #4 on our Player of the Year board.

Cole St. Clair also shows up on that board. Last year’s winner of my unsanctioned Filthiest Reliever in the Country Award (74 innings, 31 hits, 100 K’s) has moved to the starting rotation this season. CSC's talent stands out less than you’d expect, though, because the rest of the Rice pitching staff is filled with thoroughbreds.

Besides Savery, a few other hitters deserve mention. Shortstop Brian Friday really made The Leap last year, morphing from merely a decent hitter into an All-American, hitting .353 with power and picking up the slack from Savery’s subpar year. Center fielder Tyler Henley also picked up some of that slack and might be the most underrated player from an elite program in the country -- last season he led Conference USA in runs scored and total bases. Aaron Luna’s not too shabby either – as freshman, he hit .322 and led the Hooters with 16 homers.

With all this big-time talent, Rice shouldn’t suffer through many losing streaks. But the beauty of baseball is that any team can be beaten on any night. At least that’s what the guys in the other dugout have to be thinking.

Texas State is a pesky midweek opponent. Though their last post-season appearance was in 2000, they’re a program that always seems to be near the top of the Southland Conference and annually seems to be in the at-large bid discussions late in the season. Boyd Nation ranks them as the 55th best program over the past decade.

However, the Bobcats are hamstrung by a couple of factors.

First, they had so much success for awhile against the nearby Texas Longhorns (four consecutive wins from 2000-2002) that Augie Garrido changed his transfer policy – he will release a player to transfer anywhere except to other Big 12 schools… and Texas State. Texas gets so much talent that another program can make noise with their leftovers every year, and the Austin-San Marcos pipeline really filled up Texas State’s tank for several years, but not any more.

More importantly, though, the Bobcats are held back by indifference from their athletic department. The team still plays in a high school-quality stadium, and though there has been talk for years about replacing it, public fundraising still hasn’t even begun. Considering these constraints, head coach Ty Harrington has done a commendable job attracting talent to a program that has received only slightly more support than the US military has received from France.

Texas State opened their season Friday with a win over #30 Oklahoma, then split a pair with UT-Pan American.

Rice is 1-0 after a win over Division II power Central Missouri.

Game time 6:30 central -- back with more later.

Posted by Glenn Tanner at 04:59 PM on February 06, 2007
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