Overall Rank: #13
Conference Rank: #1 Conference USA
The Rice Owls have been the model of consistency under the leadership of long time Head Coach Wayne Graham. In 2011 Rice won both the Conference USA regular season and postseason titles for an impressive 16th consecutive year. Coach Graham’s bunch also won 40 or more games for the 17th straight season. Starting his 21st spring at the helm of the Owls, Coach Graham collected his 900th win in April, 2011. He returns 22 lettermen, eight starters and a cadre of veteran pitchers. This seasoned group will be tested in 2012, with 23 games against nine of last year’s NCAA Tournament qualifiers.
2011: 42-21, 16-8
2011 Postseason: NCAA Eliminated in Houston Regional (losses to Baylor and California)
Coach: Wayne Graham, 21st Season
Junior Michael Ratterree tied for the highest average on the 2011 Owl squad and should lead them at the plate again. The All-Conference pick hit .327, tallying 85 hits, 20 doubles and 53 RBI. Ratteree had a 19 game hit streak last spring and was among the conference leaders in RBI (49) and average (.380). Sophomore Shane Hoelscher made the Freshman All-Conference team, hit .281 with 59 hits and 37 RBI. Catcher Craig Manuel hit .309 with 35 RBI. Junior Ryan returns after hitting .269 with 28 RBI.
Coach Graham brings back a pitching staff that started 55 of last year’s 63 games. Headlining the group is sophomore Austin Kubitza. The 2011 Conference USA Player of the Year won 6 of his 15 starts, posting a 2.34 ERA and striking out a league leading 102 in 100 innings. The right hander also earned Freshman All-American honors. Senior Matthew Reckling was second in the conference in strike outs with 96 in just 78 innings. Drafted last June in the 22nd round by the Indians, he was 4-1 with a conference best opponents’ batting average of .214. Junior Tyler Duffy came out of the bullpen 29 times in 2011, going 8-2 with a 2.52 ERA. He fanned 76 in 60 innings. Freshman All-Conference pick John Simms made nine starts last season. In 62 innings he struck out 63. Simms ended the season 3-2 with one save.
Who to Watch:
Expected to start this spring, Freshman Jordan Stephens showed promise in the fall. An Alvin High product fanned 100 hitters in 66 innings as a senior. The right hander posted a 2.35 ERA and struck out 10 or more batters four times. Zech Lemond, a freshman from Waltrip High School in Houston, should get some middle relief and spot starts for the Owls in 2012. The 2011 Pittsburgh Pirates 50th round draft pick finished his senior season with a 0.95 ERA striking out 53 in 37 innings.
Rice and Coach Graham have a wealth of talent and experience in the 2012 squad. A steady defense returns to back up a very veteran pitching staff. Kubitza and Reckling give the Owls a chance to compete every time they take the mound. The return of Rice’s top eight hitters will give Coach Graham a potent offense. The Owls will certainly be the team to beat in Conference USA and with the new additions, Rice should have the ingredients to continue it’s strangle hold on the conference and its consistent appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Look for Rice to make it 17 Conference Championships and 18 NCAA Tournaments in a row.
Projected Postseason: NCAA
At Bats: J.T. Chargois, INF, 261
Hits: Michael Ratterree, INF/OF, 85
Home Runs: Michael Ratterree, INF/OF, 6
RBIs: Michael Ratterree, INF/OF, 53
Runs: J.T. Chargois, INF, 52
Stolen Bases: Michael Ratterree, INF/OF, 6; Keenan Cook, INF/OF, 6
Wins: Tyler Duffy, P, 8
Innings Pitched: Austin Kubitza, P, 100
Strikeouts: Austin Kubitza, P, 102
Saves: Tyler Duffy, P, 2; J.T. Chargois, P, 2