FIRST LOOK: Rice Super Regional

After falling to Rice in last year's super regional, the Texas A&M baseball team has something to prove this go around. Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp takes a look at the Rice squad, which is the only thing standing between the Aggies and the College World Series.

AT THE PLATE
The Owls aren't really known for their offensive prowess, they just score enough runs to win with their outstanding pitching staff. The Owls are the No. 75 hitting team in the nation with a team batting average of .308, which is good, but not great. They're the No. 54 scoring team in the nation, plating 7.4 runs per game, but they typically don't do it with a big power game, typically scoring most of their runs playing small ball.

The Owls average just .88 homers a game (No. 108 in the nation) and posted a slugging percentage of just .453 (No. 97). The Aggies just have to play sound defense—which is easier said than done lately—and not help Rice have a big inning.

Rice has six starters hitting .306 or higher, led by third baseman Diego Seastruck, who leads the team with a .363 average and 56 RBI.

Catcher Adam Zornes and left fielder Aaron Luna are the biggest threats to go deep against the Aggie pitchers. Zornes leads the team with 11 homers, which isn't exactly in the list of NCAA leaders, and Luna was second with eight.

The Owls scored 11 runs against A&M earlier this year, but when they faced three of the better arms out of the bullpen, they weren't able to muster much offense.

MATCH UP: A&M pitching vs. Rice offense
EDGE: A&M


ON THE MOUND
The arms on Wayne Graham's roster is definitely the strength of this team. The Owls are the No. 6 team in the nation with an ERA of 3.55, and No. 8 in the nation in strikeouts, averaging nine per nine innings.

Owls ace Ryan Berry will take the mound for Rice in game one on Saturday, leading the Rice starters with an ERA of 3.00 and 84 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .247 off of the hard-throwing right hander.

The other two weekend starters aren't much of a step down from Berry as well. Chris Kelley (5-1, 3.28 ERA) and Matt Langwell (5-1, 4.38) will also present challenges for A&M.

The Rice bullpen is extremely solid as well. Matt Evers and Bryan Price lead the team with 27 appearances each. Opponents are hitting just .230 against Evers (4-1, 2.63), who pitched 1.2 hitless innings against the Aggies in the meeting earlier this year.

Cole St. Clair (9-2, 2.65) is an extremely reliable closer for Graham as well, posting a record of 9-2 with five saves. Opponents are also hitting just .230 against St. Clair.

MATCH UP: Rice pitching vs. A&M offense
EDGE: Rice


LAST TIME THEY MET
Rice hammered A&M at Olsen Field in April this year, ending a 13-game winning streak for the Aggies with an 11-2 win in a Tuesday night game between the seventh-ranked Owls and eighth-ranked Aggies. The Rice hitters feasted off of starter Scott Migl with six runs on six hits, and added another four runs on three hits off of Carson Middleton and Kirkland Rivers.

Rice center fielder Jared Gayhart and left fielder Aaron Luna led the way offensively for the Owls with five RBI and a home run each. Gayhart, cather Adam Zornes, third baseman Diego Seastrunk and first baseman J.P. Padron each recorded multi-hit games against the Aggies' first three pitchers of the game.

But the Aggies' go-to guys in the bull-pen stopped the bleeding, it was just too late. Hank Robertson, Kyle Thebeau and Travis Starling allowed just one hit over the last three innings of the game, striking out four of the 12 batters they faced in the final three frames, which should give the Aggies some hope heading into the weekend considering Rice hasn't seen any of their top three starters this season.

On the flipside, A&M couldn't get much going offensively against Mike Ojala, Rice's No. 4 starter. He allowed one run on just four hits over six innings of work, striking out six A&M hitters in the process.

The Rice bullpen held the Aggies in check over the final three frames of the game as well, as Bobby Bell and Matt Evers—who is tied for the lead in appearances on the mound this year with 27—allowed one run off of two hits, striking out five more A&M sluggers.

But you got the sense from post game interviews that night that the Aggies and head coach Rob Childress didn't bring their best effort to the park.

"One team showed up ready to play tonight, and one team showed up and was just okay," Childress said.

Expect the Aggies to come out "ready to play" this time.


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