The Owls were the preseason #1, but didn’t live up to those expectations early on. But Wayne Graham’s club has won 30 of their last 32, including a recent 20-game win streak. They�ve hit their stride at just the right time, and that means trouble. Rice is known for their pitching, but the bats that have made headlines lately. The Owls scored 60 runs in winning the Conference USA tournament, including 36 in the last two games against Memphis and East Carolina.
The Horned Frogs swept both Mountain West titles for the second year in a row, going 20-3 in league play, then sweeping through the MWC tournament in Las Vegas. TCU is solid at the plate (.316), in their rotation (top three starters are 27-6), and in the bullpen (starter-turned-closer Sam Demel has 13 saves).
The Bears made a late-season move to get into the regionals, sweeping their last conference series vs. Kansas State, then knocking off Oklahoma State, Missouri, and Oklahoma in the Big 12 tourney before falling to Texas A&M in the final. This is the second straight year Steve Smith�s team will be at Rice.
The Panthers, like Baylor, return to Rice for the second straight year. They won the SWAC West Division title, and swept through the SWAC tournament, defeating Southern 8-7 for the title. The 2004 season is no doubt still fresh in many minds, when Texas Southern upset defending champ Rice in their opening game. And last year, the Panthers held a 5-3 lead going into the 8th inning, but the Owls came back to win 6-5.