Houston NCAA College Baseball Regional Recap

A look at the games and players from the opening round of the NCAA baseball tournament in Houston.

It does not get much better than the NCAA Regionals weekend. Especially if your team is hosting. Even more so when the committee sends two bitter rivals to your house. This past weekend, the Rice Owls hosted the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, and George Mason Patriots in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. While most of the headlines were captured by the resumption of the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, Rice has had some bitter postseason battles with both schools since 2000.

In 2002, Texas beat Rice in the College World Series opener en route to a national championship. The following year, the Owls bested the Horns twice in Omaha before steamrolling Stanford in the deciding game of the championship series. Each team has offed the other in the regional round since.

In the 2004 Houston regional, a grand slam by Justin Ruggiano off of Philip Humber fueled a Texas A&M upset of the #6 national seed Owls. In 2007 and 2008, Rice hosted and beat the Aggies in super regional play.

This weekend in 2014 did not disappoint. Two new Reckling Park attendance records were set as the blistering heat gave way to torrential rains, which let up just in time for a beautiful deciding game on Monday.

Day 1 in the Houston regional kicked off with a grudge match between the Longhorns and Aggies. A record crowd of 6,600+ skipped work on Friday and braved withering heat to see the Texas bats explode against A&M ace and highly rated draft prospect Daniel Mengden. The Aggies continued their trend of Friday struggles as Mengden was chased with one out in the third inning. The damage had already been done. Mengden walked two, struck out one, allowed seven hits and seven earned runs. The Longhorns set the tone early as leadoff man Brooks Marlow blasted the eighth pitch he saw over the right field fence. Texas, without the services of lefty Dillon Peters (7-3, 2.13), trotted out Nathan Thornhill (7-2, 1.49) who started the year as the closer. He dominated the Aggie lineup for seven innings, striking out 7 and allowing just one run.

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Midway through the first game, the PA announcer broadcast that severe weather was detected in the area which might delay the start of game 2. Looking at the skies (pictured above, at the time of the announcement), the thought of a weather delay was almost laughable. But, this is Houston after all. Storms rolled in and pushed the nightcap back an hour and a half. As the game finally started, a pitchers’ duel erupted as Rice’s Kevin McCanna (8-3, 2.69) and George Mason’s Jared Ganyor (8-4, 1.67 headed into the night) matched scoreless frames for six innings. McCanna, who started the season as a midweek guy, continued his stretch of dominance since his move to the Friday spot was forced by injuries. Gaynor, a lefty who never got his fastball much above 82, was able to keep the Owls off balance by changing speeds expertly.

Rice pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh before Mason responded with two in the eighth. Rice promptly tied the game in the bottom of the eighth with only one out. Someone near me worried this game would go into extra innings, but I just didn’t see it happening. Mason had been getting away with poor execution, and you just knew they did not have any good options once Gaynor tired. Mason’s inexperience showed through in the eighth as some sloppy misplays coupled with some missed spots by Ganyor. Rice would come to life with 6 runs in the frame, letting Zech Lemond slam the door shut for the win. Lemond, recently returning from arm soreness, lit up the radar gun, hitting 96 several times.


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Day 2 at Reckling was a big party day for Owls and Longhorns alike. Our mixed crew of Owls, Longhorns, Aggies, and Bearkats arrived at the parking lot about 9 hours before the scheduled first pitch, and promptly set up our TV to ESPN’s bases loaded coverage and fired up the grill. The skies opened up and rains threatened to flood the tailgate area. Hiding under our tents for the good portion of the afternoon, a steady stream of baseball on TV kept everyone in good spirits. In the early game, the Aggies ousted George Mason to stay alive.

The nightcap was the game the Rice fans all been waiting for, a chance to finally face the Longhorns ace to ace. The two teams split their midweek series, while Texas claimed a victory on the weekend at Minute Maid Park early in the year. Rice’s Saturday starter, Blake Fox (12-0, 1.46) gutted through 7 innings, allowing nine hits but only two runs. Parker French (5-5, 2.62) was nearly as good, allowing 2 earned runs in 6.2 innings. The game was full of tense moments for both teams, keeping the capacity crowd on the edge of their seats well past 1 AM.  The Longhorn bullpen proved to be the difference, with closer John Curtiss picking up the win with four scoreless, hitless innings. Texas would scratch out a run in the top of the 11th to win it.


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The Sunday games were just as exciting. In the elimination game, Rice took an early 6-0 lead over the Aggies before a five run seventh got Texas A&M back in the game. The offensive explosion was highlighted by a monster grand slam from 1B Cole Lankford. Even at 6-5, there was a feeling that Rice did not have the bats or the arms to keep the Aggies at bay. Texas A&M would take a 7-6 lead in the bottom of the 8th. Down to their last three outs, it seemed that one of the Rice power guys would have to hit a homer to tie the game. 1B Skyler Ewing delivered with a blast over Bikini Hill in left field to even the score. In the 10th, Rice was able to take the lead 8-7 before their trend of sloppy play in the most crucial games came back to haunt them. Two wild pitches and an error gifted the Aggies two runs in the bottom half and ended Rice’s season.

In the Aggie-Longhorn rematch, freshman lefthander Tyler Stubblefield threw a complete game to force a game seven. He allowed only four hits and two runs while striking out nine. He recorded the last two outs via K, including an 8 pitch duel with Texas outfielder Ben Johnson. Johnson hit homeruns foul down both the left and right field lines before taking a called third strike to end the game. A clearly fired up Stubblefield threw out a "horns down" in celebration.

On Monday night, the Longhorns got a pitching boost from Chad Hollingsworth. Making his first start of the year, Hollingsworth threw a complete game, surrendering only two hits and one unearned run. He began the game sitting around 93 on the radar gun, but was topping out at around 88 in the final frames. Despite the drop in velocity, he was dominant throughout. Both teams score in the first inning, but it was all Longhorns after that. Texas scored in the fourth to go ahead for good, and added two insurance runs in the seventh. Texas will host the University of Houston in Austin this weekend after the Cougars upset SEC champion LSU in Baton Rouge.

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Below are notes on some of the players that might have their names called in this week’s draft or in the coming years. Take my comments with a grain of salt, as I am just a fan and all observations were made through some pretty thick beer goggles.

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Blake Allemand, INF (Jr)
Stat Line: .290/.397/.319, 34 BB, 30 K
Notes: -
Video: (Sorry, Aggies)
My Take: Didn't have the best numbers on the season. No homers, and only five extra base hits. However, he seemed damn near impossible to get out against Rice this year.
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Michael Aquino, OF (Sr)
Stat Line: .323/.358/.500, 7 HR, 44 RBI
Notes: #15 Prospect in C-USA (Baseball America)
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTAPmFKYWeo
My Take: Good athlete with a line drive swing. 2013 College HR Derby Champ. Was having a down year until several weeks ago, but has been on an amazing hot streak since. Added 45 points to the batting average and 111 to his slugging since April 12. Reminiscent of the finish to Michael Ratterree's senior year. After being drafted, Ratterree won the MVP of the Pioneer League. Struggles with the SAC bunt at times.
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Nick Banks, OF (Fr)
Stat Line: .327/.386/.427, 2 HR, 26 RBI
Notes: -
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPm1JwkaOKI
My Take: Phenomenal freshman year. Good enough that I felt he ought to be included on this list.
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Leon Byrd, SS (Soph)
Stat Line: .253/.384/.313, 28 BB, 28 K
Notes: Drafted in 25th Round 2012 (Mets), #3 Prospect in C-USA 2015 Draft (Baseball America), 2013 Cape Cod All-Star
Video: -
My Take: Excellent defensively at CF last year, even better at SS this season. Struggling offensively. Plus speed. Struggled offensively early and was sidelined with an injury but has come back strong.
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John Curtiss, RHP (Soph)
Stat Line: 1-2, 2.51 ERA, 32.1 IP, 24 K, 13 BB, .220 BAA, 8 Saves
Notes: Drafted in 30th Round 2011 (Rockies), #6 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America), #231 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com), #64 College Prospect (Baseball America)
Video: -
My Take: Has been very good in the back of the bullpen. Absolutely shut Rice down offensively for four innings, allowing no hits and striking out four.
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Jon Duplantier, RHP (Fr)
Stat Line: 2-2, 2.21 ERA, 57.0 IP, 57 K, 38 BB, .224 BAA
Notes: #2 Prospect in C-USA 2015 Draft (Baseball America)
Video: -
My Take: Athletic body, strong legs. Low 90s fastball with solid breaking ball. Has struggled with control at times, but has been tough on hitters when throwing strikes.
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Skyler Ewing, C/1B (Jr)
Stat Line: .330/.398/.496, 8 HR, 46 RBI
Notes: #8 Prospect in C-USA (Baseball America), Cape Cod All-Star, College Baseball Daily #40 College Baseball Player (Link)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1lK_9jUKkQ
My Take: Powerful gap to gap swing. Fantastic defensively at 1B, but has looked uncomfortable at times behind the plate. Cape Cod HR Derby Champion. Good bunter.
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Blake Fox, LHP (Soph)
Stat Line: 12-0, 1.38 ERA, 97.2 IP, 65 K, 26 BB, .229 BAA
Notes: 2013 Freshman All-American
Video: -
My Take: Spent some time at 1B, but has been a dominant lefty on the hill this year. Has yet to lose a collegiate start. Mid 80s fastball, can locate all pitches, and they all have movement. Got his fastball up to 90-91 for a couple pitches when he needed the gas to finish a hitter.
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Parker French, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 5-5, 2.61 ERA, 82.2 IP, 53 K, 36 BB, .237 BAA
Notes: #4 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America), #74 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com), #46 College Prospect (Baseball America)
Video: -
My Take: Has been excellent throughout his career at Texas. Has a violent head bob at the end of his delivery.
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C.J. Hinojosa, SS (Soph)
Stat Line: .282/.363/.347, 1 HR
Notes: Drafted in 26th Round 2012 (Astros), #1 Prospect in Big XII 2015 (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Af658BSxjM
My Take: Has shown a top level glove at SS. Handles the bat well.
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Shane Hoelscher, 3B (Sr)
Stat Line: .332/.395/.430, 21 2B
Notes: -
Video: -
My Take: Fierce competitor with a quick bat. Sprays line drives all over the field. Makes spectacular plays at 3B almost nightly, but also prone to throwing errors.
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Ben Johnson, OF (Soph)
Stat Line: .279/.385/.441, 6 HR, 20-20 SB
Notes: #7 Prospect in Big XII 2015 (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixO3u684rsI
My Take: Good athlete with a good approach at the plate. Very big frame, especially for a fast guy. In the final at bat of the Sunday night game against Texas A&M, drove home runs foul down the right and left field lines before striking out looking.
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Cole Lankford, 1B (Jr)
Stat Line: .319/.344/.422, 5 HR, 47 RBI
Notes: -
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kf1kCYyk7AE
My Take: Fellow West University Little League product. Whenever he was on televised games, announcers raved at the fluidity and quickness of his swing. Profiles to me like a smaller Vincent Sinisi, the Rice 1B drafted in the second round in 2003. A parent near me commented that their son was much better than him in little league. Well, things change.
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Zech Lemond, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 3-1, 1.40 ERA, 51.1 IP, 49 K, 15 BB, .213 BAA
Notes: Drafted in 50th Round 2011 (Pirates), #2 Prospect in C-USA (Baseball America), #68 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com), #31 College Prospect (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_oA0XKz3u8
My Take: Bulldog as a closer last season, and excelled as a starter as well. Low to mid 90s FB, sharp breaking pitch. Missed some time with soreness and has returned to the back of the pen.
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Kevin McCanna, RHP (Soph)
Stat Line: 8-3, 2.81 ERA, 86.1 IP, 60 K, 21 BB, .272 BAA
Notes: Drafted in 22nd Round 2012 (Padres), #5 Prospect in C-USA 2015 (Baseball America)
Video: -
My Take: Addition of a slider and improved control have helped him this season. Excelled since being forced into the Friday night role, and really deserves consideration for team MVP for filling that spot.
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Daniel Mengen, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 4-9, 4.08 ERA, 103.2 IP, 95 K, 29 BB, .258 BAA
Notes: #8 Prospect in SEC (Baseball America), #59 Prospect (minorleagueball)
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5ykKwY4GX8
My Take: Saw him this weekend and on TV at least once this season, but never saw him look particularly comfortable on the mound. His stats reflect some of these stuggles. Has a sweet 'stache.
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Anthony Montefusco, RHP/1B (Sr)
Stat Line: 9-4, 2.19 ERA, 82 K, 14 BB, 106.2 IP, .267 BAA
Notes: -
Video: -
My Take: Was on Baseball America's top conference prospects last year, and his numbers this season show why. Despite seeing George Mason this year and last, I did not get to see him pitch. Not much of a pro future as a hitter.
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Mark Payton, OF (Sr)
Stat Line: .319/.457/.446, HR, 5 3B
Notes: Drafted in 31st Round 2011 (Twins) and 16th Round 2013 (Indians), #15 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMfZJsnLWL0
My Take: Was almost impossible to get out early in the season. Quick feet with a line drive swing.
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Dillon Peters, LHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 7-3, 2.13 ERA, 80.1 IP, 53 K, 21 BB, .247 BAA
Notes: #2 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America), #97 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com), #30 College Prospect (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YlFrJ6xQV7Y
My Take: Upper 80s fastball, Perfect Game had him at 90-93 last summer but I didn't see that velocity in the two or three outings I saw this season. Gets a ton of groundballs. Sidelined for the regionals with an arm injury.
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Corey Ray, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 6-1, 1.91 ERA, 37.2 IP, 25 K, 14 BB, .236 BAA
Notes: #315 Draft Prospect (minorleagueball)
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8iJu7gCczQ
My Take: Fastball was 92-94 this weekend.  Took the hard luck loss on Monday allowing 2 unearned runs in five innings. 17 appearances vs. 4 starts on the season. Was an effective stopper against George Mason, picking up the win in relief.
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John Clay Reeves, C (Jr)
Stat Line: .316/.369/.443, 6 HR, 38 RBI
Notes: #11 Prospect in C-USA (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=liOzBSsqBOU#aid=P-3XYzXy1qM
My Take: Compact swing, hits line drives to all fields. Has played well through pain and been a team leader.
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Lukas Schiraldi, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 7-3, 4.15 ERA, 60.2 IP, 33 K, 35 BB, .241 BAA
Notes: #5 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America), #139 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com), #57 College Prospect (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC5v4kp8KBY
My Take: One of the best midweek starters in the country for most of the year. Low to mid 90s FB. His main struggles have been with control. Against Rice in a midweek contest in Austin exuded confidence and aggressiveness in just about everything he did. Really impressed me with that. Rice didn't seem too impressed seeing him for the second consecutive Wednesday, and they pounded out 10 hits in 4 innings.
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Collin Shaw, OF (Jr)
Stat Line: .252/.348/.289, 31 K, 20 BB
Notes: #9 Prospect in Big XII 2015 (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szpCzQTqy8I
My Take: -
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Jordan Stephens, RHP (Jr)
Stat Line: 2-0, 2.57 ERA, 14 IP, 15 K, 5 BB, .212 BAA
Notes: #6 Prospect in C-USA (Baseball America), #275 Pitching Prospect (minorleagueball.com)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8hWAPcZcYE
My Take: Deceptive delivery, low 90s fastball. Curveball has the potential to take over a game. Has pitched his best on the biggest stages (CG SHO, 2 hits allowed against Oregon in 2013 Eugene Regional). Out for the season with TJ surgery.
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Nathan Thornhill, RHP (Sr)
Stat Line: 6-2, 1.51 ERA, 83.2 IP, 49 K, 31 BB, .198 BAA
Notes: Drafted in 24th Round 2013 (Astros), #18 Prospect in Big XII (Baseball America)
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10MNIFGuigA
My Take: Struggled some as a closer, but has been much more effective as a starter. Fastball was up to 93 against Texas A&M this weekend.

Two other Texas Longhorns bear mentioning at the end here:

  • Tres Barrera, C (Fr) - Hit balls hard all weekend against some really good arms.  Batting cleanup and catching all games for Texas shows just how much the Longhorns like this kid.  Was aggressive defensively and showed some fearlessness as he got into it with a Rice senior who took too long looking at a 450 foot foul ball.  I'd love to have him on my team, and would hate to play against him.
  • Traivs Duke, LHP (Soph) - Lefty who just wore out the low and away corner with 87-89 mph fastballs.  Very impressive command of that location.  Allowed only one earned run on the season in 25 IP.
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