By Mark Anderson
Sitting in a Florida hotel room seems like a good place to offer a little perspective on the Rice Owls season thus far. They’ve played twenty-plus games so far. Their season record at the time I began this article was 15-5. I heard about the loss to Sam Houston State last week. So how are the Owls stacking up so far this season?
From this writer’s perspective, good. . . very good, in fact.
Ask Nebraska if you don’t believe me. . . or Cal State Fullerton. . . or TCU. These are ranked teams that Rice has beaten—and usually their ace pitcher to boot. Only two ranked teams Arizona State, and Texas –who has been a thorn in the (back) side, beating Rice on a dramatic ninth inning homer, and then winning big at Reckling (don’t worry, Rice fans, Rice gets another shot at them in Austin on the 22nd of March) until SHSU were able to inflict losses upon the feathered flock. While a loss against Sam Houston State University was a little on the unexpected side, other highly ranked teams have lost at least one game to an unranked team (think LONGHORNS here).What (and Who) Has Been Excellent
Can you say Eddie Degerman? Eddie has been nothing short of great this season. His 4-0 record and his pitches have been darting and deceptive. Eddie isn’t overpowering—his fastball averages between 88-91 mph. But mix that in with a great curve and a change-up that keeps a hitter off-balance.
Cole St. Clair has also done a great job in relief for the Owls. Cole again isn’t overpowering, but he is one who keeps a hitter off-stride. His outing against Sam Houston was remarkable, especially pitching almost six innings in relief.
Another name that needs to go here is Jordan Dodson. Jordan has been a very consistent hitter this year, and has put the ball out of the park in some crucial situations. But folks, don’t forget that glove and arm! This young man has a cannon hanging out of that right sleeve, and it is an accurate one (ask the Longhorns about that one).
Josh Rodriguez has been outstanding as well. Who can forget the two walk-off homers—especially the one against Cal-Fullerton in the 10th inning? While not able to play for much of the time in the field, his contributions at DH are considerable.
The outfield defense for the Owls has been very good this year. Dodson in left has displayed the ability to go and get it as well as a strong arm that keeps runners honest. Chad Lembeck has been just as spectacular, if not more so, in right field. His arm has also kept runners honest. Tyler Henley has also done a fine job defensively in centerfield. This outfield is one that I feel doesn’t get its’ due in national headlines, especially where the defense is concerned.
Also considered excellent: Joe Savery’s defensive play at first; Bryce Cox’s job as a closer (yes, I consider it excellent—leave out the two Texas games and the SHSU disaster, and you have an unbelievable record of shutting the door); and Danny Lehmann has done an outstanding job behind the plate and gotten several clutch hits and/or sacrifice flies in crucial situations.
I would be amiss in ending this section without giving kudos to Coach Graham and the entire coaching staff for a fantastic job thus far. Coach Graham has pulled more strings than Gepetto ever thought about pulling with Pinnochio because of injuries. The coaching staff has not let the players get down on themselves if they lose a lead. The Cal State game on Friday night was a great example of this. This team never quit. So the last excellent mark goes to the entire Rice tean for their attitude, hustle, and effort. This team plays ball the way baseball was meant to be played. Most important of all, this team will not quit.Who Has Been Good Consistently
Joe Savery has been very good as the second starting pitcher for the Owls. His game against Cal State-Fullerton is a good indicator of how Joe has pitched this season. The Owls will need his consistency in the last part of the season in order for the Owls to go to Omaha.
Greg Buchanan has been a good offensive player for the Owls this season. His hitting and ability to steal a base have kept the Owls going or got them going. Chad Lembeck has also been consistent—he has been at the heart of several rallies, and scored several critical runs to ignite the offense. Chad has also shown flashes of power.
Brian Friday has done a very consistent job minding the store for Josh Rodriguez at shortstop since Josh was unable to start because of elbow problems.
Some would question my putting Aaron Luna into this category, but Aaron has been very consistent, although every hit has not been a home run. Still, check out his RBI’s—he’s done a good job for a pure freshman. Would we like him to hit home runs with every at-bat? Yes, we would, but that’s simply not going to happen. What is happening is he is making the adjustment from high school to Division I-A ball. He's going to do a great job for the Owls, not only this year, but in years to come.Improvements Needed in the Future
The infield defense needs to come together and be more consistent. It simply cannot expect to make three or more errors a game and hope to squeak it out in the end. Good defense wins championships, and separates the champions from the also-rans.
The third starter in the rotation has to be found soon. Will McDaniel did a nice job last Friday night—is he the answer? He looked good last Friday in Corpus. St.Clair’s outing against SHSU merits consideration as well. This, in my opinion, will be one of the keys to whether or not the Owls succeed this season.Coming On?
I would have listed the hitting of Joe Savery and Tyler Henley in the last section, but it seems that these two may very well have begun to find their stroke lately. Can Will Mc Daniel be the answer for the third starter? He’s got the ability—and the opportunity now. Let’s hope that what he showed in the Whataburger Classic is a sign of good things to come. Craig Crow also has the ability to contribute.
The second half of the season will reveal these answers—and a lot more. Do the Owls have the potential to go all the way to the CWS? Potential, yes—but potential and seventy-five cents won’t buy you a cup of coffee in a lot of places. This team has all sorts of potential, including reaching the CWS. It looks like the final part of the 2006
Schedule is something every team wants. Hopefully, we will see whether or not Rice
Can Rice fulfill not only the potential they have, but their destiny-- and play in the CWS? Time will tell.