Texas, the #2 national seed, picked up the regional hosting duties after posting a 46-11 record and winning the Big 12 Regular Season Championship by an amazing eight games before bowing out of the Big 12 Tournament with an 0-3 record. While most teams have a pitcher on their staff they designate as their ace, Texas has the advantage of boasting four such pitchers. Sophomore RHP Taylor Jungmann only managed to go 6-3 this season, but led the Texas starters with a 2.17 ERA, and struck out 113 batters over 104 innings. Junior RHP Cole Green was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year after finishing the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record. Green picked up his only loss in the conference tournament, finished with a 10-1 record and 2.64 ERA. Rounding out the starters, Junior RHP Brandon Workman picked up 11 wins versus only one loss. His 3.77 ERA was the largest on the entire pitching staff. If a team is lucky enough to get past the trio of starters, they still run into a brick wall with a great fastball and slider. Junior RHP Chance Ruffin because the first Longhorn player to record a 10-win season and a 10-save season in a career after he saved 13 games in his first year as the closer. Ruffin, son of Bruce, was named a finalist for NCBWA Stopper of the Year after striking out 89 over 58.1 innings and shrinking his ERA to 0.77.
Offensively, Texas is primed for a run to Omaha. The Kevins, 3B Lusson and OF Keyes, each hit 13 home runs, while five regulars finished the regular season above .300. Freshman OF Cohl Walla is a player to watch. The lanky righty made a splash when he was inserted into the lineup earlier in the season, and became one of the most reliable hitters in burnt orange. Junior 1B Tant Shepherd has played exceptionally well after finally settling in as the teams first baseman.
Rice’s record of 38-21 wasn’t as good as it usually is, but the surged to the top of Conference USA, winning the regular season title before falling to Southern Miss in the Championship Game. The Owls are led by sophomore 3B Anthony Rendon, considered by some to be one of the best players to ever come through Rice. Rendon comes into Austin with a .393 average and 23 home runs. On the mound, Rice’s top arm this season is from senior RHP Jared Rogers. Rogers’ 8-1 record and 4.10 ERA helped Rice to their 16th straight Regional appearance. Sophomore LHP Taylor Wall and senior RHP Mike Ojala didn’t have the seasons they were expected to, but are still more than able of winning against anyone.
The #3 seed in Austin is Sun Belt Co-Champion Louisiana-Lafayette is making their 12th overall NCAA Tournament appearance. The Ragin’ Cajuns started out conference play at 4-8 before finishing next to Florida Atlantic on the podium with identical 21-9 records. Chad Keefer and Jordan Poirrer pace the offense in most categories, while Zach Osborne and T.J. Geith combined for 14 wins from their starting roles. Louisiana is definitely in a spot to upset a higher ranked team and make a run for the Super Regionals. While their name hasn’t graced a championship trophy in Omaha, the Ragin’ Cajuns are no strangers to Rosenblatt Stadium, making a College World Series appearance in 2000 after an upset of top-seeded South Carolina.
Rider Broncs, Champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, make the long trek from Lawrenceville, New Jersey, to beautiful Austin, Texas. The Broncs are at a disadvantage, being the only team not accustomed to playing in Texas and dealing with the hot weather. Rider is expected to finish 0-2 in the Lone Star State, facing a near impossible road to Omaha. Senior OF Nick Wojnowski’s .396 average was third in the MAAC, but is the highest of any player competing in Austin. Junior LHP Mike Thomas brings a 9-2 record into the Regional with a 3.59 ERA. Freshman LHP Tyler Smith picked up six wins and nine saves on the season to help Rider get to the postseason.
If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Texas beating Rice on Sunday to advance to the Super Regionals. Texas will most likely throw Jungmann on Saturday, and one of his best performances of the year came against the Owls in the Houston College Classic. While some people put stock in previous meetings between teams, it is obvious to a lot of people that both teams have improved their level of play since the last time they met. On the year, Texas picked up a 2-1 win in Houston, lost at Rice, but exploded for a huge win in the final match up in Austin. Rice’s pitching will be what keeps them from getting past the Longhorns, and maybe past the Ragin’ Cajuns.