If pitching will decide which team wins the Rice baseball regional this weekend in Houston, give a slight edge to the Texas Longhorns.
No. 2 seed Texas (38-18) was a touch ahead of top-seeded Rice and No. 4 seed George Mason when comparing a variety of pitching statistics. No. 3 seed Texas A&M (33-24) was a distant fourth, though the Aggies had to contend with arguably the toughest schedule of the foursome.
The four teams will engage in postseason baseball beginning Friday at Reckling Park in Houston. The Owls (41-18) are attempting to make it to its second consecutive Super Regional. They were 0-2 against Texas and 0-1 against the A&M during the regular season. Rice has not advanced the last two times they hosted a regional.
The action begins at 3 p.m. Friday when Texas and Texas A&M renew acquaintances. Rice faces George Mason (34-20) at 7 p.m. Friday. The regional is a double elimination format. Here’s the schedule for the weekend.
Since pitching is typically such a vital component of postseason success, Examiner.com has compared season pitching statistics for each team in a dozen categories. The team with the best stats was given 5 points for topping each category. The runner-up was awarded 3 points, third-best 2 points and then 1 point to the remaining team.
While this doesn’t take into account the strengths of opponent hitters, it is designed to provide some insight into how pitchers may perform this weekend.
Last season Rice’s staff was projected as the best in the Eugene regional. Rice won the regional. Host Oregon was runner-up.
View the photos for this year's rankings and point totals.
Texas 40 points
Texas is making its 56th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the most by any school. It’s gunning for Regional title No. 35.
The Longhorns staff ranked first in six different pitching categories, including team ERA (2.45), fewest home runs allowed (6) and the smallest number of hit batters (35). Texas is allowing just 7.48 hits per 9 innings which ranks 13th in the country, while the Longhorns’ 10 shutouts are eighth-best in the nation. George Mason also has pitched 10 shutouts.
Texas features an experienced set of starters in Dillon Peters, Parker French and Nathan Thornhill. The trio has a cumulative 2.08 ERA. Peters has the most wins (7) and most strikeouts (53). He pitched a no-hitter in the Longhorns 12-0 win over K-State on May 16.
Relief pitcher Chad Hollingsworth was a second-team all-Big 12 selection. He held opponents to a .209 batting average and allowed just five earned runs in 33 2/3 innings of work during the regular season.
Two other names to known in the pen are Morgan Cooper and John Curtiss. Cooper earned all freshman honors after going 4-2 with 2.80 ERA. Curtiss has been the closer since returning from Tommy John surgery. He has recorded 8 saves.
Walks and strikeouts could be a concern. Texas hurlers have given up the most walks and struck out the fewest batters of the four teams.
George Mason 38 points
Seniors Anthony Montefusco and Jared Gaynor, both second team all-Atlantic 10 selections, lead an experience staff.
George Mason topped the charts in four categories: Complete games (5), shutouts (10, tied with Texas), fewest walks (138) and fewest wild pitches (28). The complete game stat is even more impressive considering Rice, Texas and Texas A&M had three complete games combined.
Montefusco led the Atlantic 10 with 78 strikeouts and ranked third with an ERA of 2.15. He shutout VCU in the A-10 Tournament on Friday. According to Baseball America, Montefusco has success with his fastball at 88-92 and an excellent changeup. He throws from a three-quarters slot and has great feel for his breaking pitches.
Gaynor’s ERA was an impressive 1.72. He completed three games, two of which were shutouts.
George Mason coach Bill Brown turned to Jake Kalish for Saturday’s championship game against VCU even though he had just four starts previously. Kalish threw his longest outing of the season, lasting nine of the 10 innings played. He allowed two runs on seven hits with seven strikeouts in his second win of the season.
When the starters do get tired, enter freshman Tyler Zombro, an Atlantic 10 All-Rookie team selection. He made a team-high 17 appearances, posting an ERA of 2.14 with a record of 5-2 and four saves.
Rice 36 points
Even without two aces for parts of the 2014 season, it’s safe to say pitching has remained a strength for Rice. Original Friday starter Jordan Stephens had his season end in early March after he underwent Tommy John surgery. Zech Lemond, last season’s star closer, stepped into the role, but he missed about a month with elbow inflammation. He returned for the Conference USA Tournament last week. Lemond has only allowed eight earned runs in 13 appearances this season.
The next man up on Fridays was Kevin McCanna. The sophomore from the Woodlands compiled an 8-3 record with a 2.81 ERA. He has 60 strikeouts and only 21 walks.
Blake Fox has been literally unbeatable when he takes the hill. Fox is 12-0 this season and leads the team with a 1.38 ERA. He is 17-0 in his career. On Thursday, he was named to the College Baseball News All-America second team. Senior Chase McDowell and freshman Jon Duplantier also could start this weekend. Duplantier has 57 strikeouts in 57 innings on the mound.
Strikeouts are one of three categories Rice leads among regional teams. The Owls have fanned 462 hitters, 27 more than Texas A&M and 144 more than Texas. Rice is tied for most pickoffs with 14 and leads in saves. Matt Ditman has half of the team’s 18 saves. Lemond and Trevor Teykl have each saved three games.
The only category Rice finished last in is hit batters. The Owls have plunked 49 opponents, almost one per game.
Texas A&M 22 points
Texas A&M is making its eighth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies had an up-and-down SEC campaign, which ended with a 4-0 loss to Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. Daniel Mengden (4-8) was saddled with the loss, yielding four runs on five hits.
Texas A&M’s staff was last in seven of the 12 categories studied, including ERA (3.58), total bases allowed (650) and wild pitches (39). That’s not to say that Aggie pitching has been dreadful – it’s just not up to the level of the other three regional participants. Aggie pitchers did tie for first in pickoffs and were second in both walks and strikeouts.
A&M played 33 games against teams that made the NCAA Tournament, so the level of hitters faced may have been better than the other teams in the regional.
Mengden is expected to start Friday opposite Texas’ Nathan Thornhill. With a strikeout against Arkansas, Mengden passed Doug Rau for 13th place on the Aggie all-time strikeouts list. Saturday’s probable starter, Grayson Long, has won six of his eighth decisions. He’s posted 3.07 ERA this season and has been a part of three shutouts.
As for the bullpen, Andrew Vinson made 30 appearances, which ranks second in the SEC. He is 3-2 with a 2.50 ERA and two saves, one of which came in a 6-5 win over Rice. Jason Jester, AJ Minter, Ty Schlottmann also have been solid this year. A&M is 27-0 this season when leading after six innings.