The Rice Owls, winners of both the regular season Conference USA championship and the Conference USA tournament championship, will be participating in their tenth Super Regional this weekend as they travel to North Carolina State.
The Owls were the winners of the Eugene Regional, in a field that included Oregon, South Dakota State, and San Francisco. Rice defeated Oregon 11-4, in the championship game on Monday.
Rice is a ballclub that is well-balanced. The Owls led Conference USA in team batting average (.282), team ERA (2.72), and hits (557). They also finished third in CUSA with a .973 fielding percentage. Rice has committed 65 errors so far this season.
On the mound, the trio of Austin Kubitza (8-4, 2.03 ERA), Jordan Stephens (7-4, 2.70 ERA), and John Simms (8-3, 2.36 ERA) have taken the ball on weekend matchups. Kubitza has held opposing hitters to a .196 average in 89.0 innings pitched. He averages 11.5 strikeouts per 9.0 innings, the second best mark in the country among Division I starting pitchers. Closer Zech Lemond (14 SV, 1.19 ERA) has also been solid in the back-end of the bullpen. The sophomore broke the single season saves record, previously held by David Aardsma (12), during the year.
Offensively, Rice has a balanced offense with .300 hitters and long ball threats. Shortstop Ford Stainback (.295, .366 OBP) and DH Michael Aquino (.323, 8 HR, 42 RBI) each led the team with 72 hits, which ranked fourth in the conference. Right fielder Michael Ratterree (.288, 9 HR, 41 RBI) finished third in the conference in home runs. Rice also gets tremendous production from second baseman Christian Stringer (.302, .417 OBP) and left fielder Keenan Cook (.309, 30 RBI)
Starting pitcher Jordan Stephens was the MVP of the Eugene Regional. The sophomore pitched a complete-game two-hit shutout against Oregon on Saturday. Other regional award recipients were second baseman Christian Stringer, shortstop Ford Stainbeck, third baseman Shane Hoelscher, outfielder Leon Byrd, and Stephens.
The North Carolina Wolfpack will host the Rice Owls as the Wolfpack make their second straight appearance in the Super Regionals after losing last year to Florida.
NC State won the Raleigh Regional with victories over Binghamton, and defeating William and Mary twice to advance to this round.
The Wolfpack enter with a .281 batting average which is good enough for 105th in the nation while having an ERA of 3.12.
Leading the hitters is sophomore Trea Turner who is hitting .377 while leading the team with 27 stolen bases in 33 attempts. That is a major drop-off from his freshman season which he stole 57 bases in 61 attempts.
The pitching staff is led by statistically by Ethan Ogburn who is 4-3 with a 2.93 in 14 appearances with a 2.95 ERA but the real leader is Carlos Rodon who is 9-2 with a 3.19 ERA in 16 starts. Rodon is widely considered the top MLB prospect for the 2014 draft but has been up and down throughout the season.
Chris Overman and Grant Sasser have split closer duties with Overman having six saves while Sasser has eight. Overman has been lights out though with a 1-1 record and an ERA of 0.39 in 23.1 innings. Sasser is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 30 appearances.
Prediction: NC State sweeps