FROM CBD NEWS SOURCE
HOUSTON – With no shortage of challenging opponents to be played at home and on the road, the Rice Owls’ baseball schedule for the full 2011-2012 season was announced on Monday (Oct. 10).
The team’s first action is as soon as this Tuesday (Oct. 11) when the Owls travel across town for a fall exhibition to be held at the University of Houston at 4 pm. The Blue & Gray then hosts Texas State on Oct. 16 (Sun.) in a 1 pm exhibition at Reckling Park.
The 54-game regular season schedule in the spring of 2012 features 31 home games at Reckling Park. There are a total of 35 dates in the city of Houston when including games across town at U.H. (Feb. 28) and downtown at Minute Maid Park in the annual College Classic Tournament (Mar. 2-4).
Rice opens the 2012 campaign at home on Feb. 17-19 against NCAA Regional participant Florida International. A season-opening eight-game homestand includes two games against New Mexico State and a weekend series against a Dallas Baptist squad that advanced to NCAA Super Regionals last season.
The 2012 schedule has at least 23 games against nine NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. The total number of games against teams coming off a Regional could still increase when the final schedule of the College Classic is announced later this year. In one stretch in early March the Blue & Gray plays five-straight games against teams from the Pac-12 Conference. After a three-game weekend road series at Stanford (Mar. 9-11), Rice is back home to host a pair of midweek games against Arizona (Mar. 13-14).
Head coach Wayne Graham, who is starting his 21st year at the helm of the Rice baseball program, said that playing as many tough teams as possible is by design. The rugged schedule prepares the team on the field while building an NCAA Ratings Power Index (RPI) that is high enough to garner consideration for national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Playing a tough schedule last season helped Rice earn a national seed. The Owls have hosted NCAA Regional action nine times in the last ten years and made seven trips to the College World Series over the past 15 years.
“You can’t predict exactly how your R.P.I. will finish-out, but we’ve put together what should be another strong schedule,” said coach Graham. “Our schedule last year helped us host a regional, and our schedule this year could be as good or better. A number of teams we have on the schedule are going to better than they were a year ago. We have highly-rated non-conference games, and our conference opponents are very strong. We have a good schedule, but that is only part of it. You then have to win the games.
“The fall exhibitions (this week) are an opportunity for us to look at a lot of players in different positions,” the head coach added. “We want to see the new players. They will get chances in our two exhibitions.”
Both of the first two Conference USA teams to visit Reckling Park (Southern Miss in late March and East Carolina in April) advanced to NCAA Regionals in 2011. Rice hosts Houston and UAB in conference series in early May. The Owls also have home games against some familiar teams from around the region, including crosstown foe Texas Southern and longtime opponents Lamar, Grambling State, Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas-San Antonio and Texas State.
The Blue & Gray is on the road for single mid-week game at College World Series participant Texas A&M. The Owls also play at Texas State, Lamar and Sam Houston. Rice travels to Memphis, Tulane, Marshall and UCF to round-out the C-USA road series. The Owls return to Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss., for the annual C-USA Tournament (May 23-26). Trustmark Park is the minor league home of the Atlanta Braves AA affiliate, and the same facility where Rice won the C-USA Tournament last season.
Rice baseball’s fall practices began on Sept. 26 (Mon.). The practices and up-coming exhibitions are open to the public.