Rice-UT: Best Rivalry in Texas

By Glenn Tanner - March 27, 2007

Welcome to Austin, where tonight Rice and Texas will play round one of their annual hatefest!

Because of Rice's amazing national success (and Texas A&M's recent ineptitude), this has become the best rivalry in the state. Three emotional games in Omaha particularly set the rivalry ablaze. In 2002, Texas beat Rice in a CWS thriller (most remembered for Omar Quintinilla's throw to the plate that nearly scalped Wayne Graham) and went on to win the CWS title. In 2003, Rice beat the Longhorns twice in Omaha and went on to win the whole shebang.

Unfortunately for the Owls, they haven't beaten Texas since then. The Longhorns have won the last nine games in the series, a streak that includes five one-run victories. Like tonight's game, all of those meetings were midweek contests. All of those games have started out like regular midweek games, with midweek starters and ample use of the bullpens, but the intensity always gets high and sometimes the coaches have cranked it up a notch. A 2004 contest saw Friday night aces and eventual first-round draft picks J.P. Howell of Texas and Jeff Niemann of Rice summoned from the bullpen to try to close it out.

Tonight's game again looks like a typical midweek game, with Chris Kelley (0-1, 4.62 ERA in 25.1 innings) of Rice starting against the Longhorns' Austin Wood (3-0, 3.65 ERA in 37 innings). Don't expect them to throw more than five innings, but don't be surprised if the real stud arms emerge out of the bullpen if the game is close at the end.

Both of these teams started the season slow, but have rocketed up the rankings. Rice started the season 3-4, but is now 19-9 and rated #5 by the RPI. With the loss of rotation ace Eddie Degerman to graduation and relief ace Cole St. Clair to injury, everyone expected Rice's talented veteran hitters to carry the team early. It has actually been the opposite. The staff ERA is slightly better than last year's (3.08 vs. 3.16), and the veteran hitters have been disappointing almost across the board. The Owls are hitting only .283 as a team, and Brian Friday (.353 to .306), Tyler Henley (.336 to .292), and Aaron Luna (.322 to .284) have all seen their batting averages decline significantly. Rice star Joe Savery has seen a small decline in his batting average, too, but a more alarming drop in power. [Rice stats]

Like Rice, Texas started the season with a 3-4 record, but have caught fire and now carry a 22-8 mark and a #4 RPI ranking. The Horns ran off a 10-game win streak that ended Sunday in their meltdown against Kansas State. Texas traditionally wins with pitching and defense, but they've been smacking the snot out of the ball this season. Despite playing all but three of their games in extreme pitcher's parks, the Longhorns rank eighth in the nation in both team slugging percentage and OPS. Bradley Suttle and Kyle Russell are especially en fuego. Suttle is batting .440 and slugging .759. Russell has a NCAA-leading 15 homers already, only five off the Texas season record, and is slugging a ridiculous .922. [Texas stats]

After yesterday's torrential downpour, tonight's weather looks spectacular. The clouds are sparse and the temperature is 80. Most significantly, though, there's a strong southeastern breeze, a rarity at Disch-Falk, that will give legs to any ball hit in the air towards left.

First pitch is scheduled for 6:05. Should be a great one! I'll post updates every three innings or so, or when action particularly warrants.

Posted by Glenn Tanner at 06:43 PM on March 27, 2007

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