The Texas Longhorns baseball team travels to Houston to renew acquaintances with the Rice Owls tonight. Texas should be sky high after taking two of three from Texas Tech over the weekend. The Horns are 6-0 this season in mid-week games, but tonight’s opponent is quite a bit better than our normal mid-week fair.
Rice (21-9) enters the game at Reckling Park ranked in five of the six major polls, with a high of 12th in Baseball America’s poll. However, the Owls lost two of three last weekend to Middle Tennessee St. The Blue Raiders, who are only 12-14 this year, shocked the Owls over the weekend.
The Owls offense if powered by INF Tyler Ewing and C John Clay Reeves. Reeves leads the team in batting average, hitting .368 with 22 RBIs and has only struck out 14 times in 114 at bats. Ewing provides the pop. He leads the team with 5 home runs, 34 RBIs and a whopping .521 slugging percentage.
Another key Owl to watch is OF Keenan Cook. Cook currently sports an on-base percentage of .361 and leads the team in stolen bases, where he has been a perfect seven-for-seven this year. He has also scored 25 runs, good for second on the team. The Horns will need to keep him off the bases tonight.
The Owl’s starting pitcher tonight is freshman Josh Duplantier. The Katy native brings a record of 0-1 with a 3.32 ERA. His only previous collegiate start came against Texas Tech during the Houston Classic on March 2. The Owls will be hoping for a better performance than that one. In that game, he only lasted 2.2 innings and walked five hitters in one inning. Obviously, Longhorn hitters will need to be patient tonight and make the youngster work for his outs.
Texas counters with Lukas Schiraldi (4-1 2.45). Schiraldi has developed into an excellent mid-week starter, allowing only one run in his last two starts, covering a total of 15 innings. Schiraldi is a key cog of a UT pitching staff that ranks fourth nationally with a cumulative ERA of 1.98.
Offensively, the Horns have been absolutely raking lately. They have collected double-digit hits in seven of their last eight games for a team batting average of .336 and averaging nearly 7 runs a game.
As always, it starts at the top with OF Mark Payton, who ran his consecutive games on base streak to 66 over the weekend. He leads the Big XII in OBP (.516) and triples (5) and tied for first in batting average (.402).
The other hot hand is Tres Barrera. Barrera was named Big XII Freshman of the Week after going 8-of-19 with seven RBIs over four games last week. Since March 11, there may not be a hotter hitter in the country than Barrera, who is on a 23-of-50 clip for a .460 average during that span.
The Owls are still among the best in the country and are always a tough date at home, but the Horns should have the upper hand in this one. Although Duplantier is working on a six inning scoreless streak, he hasn’t seen an offense as potent as the one Texas brings. Meanwhile, Schiraldi has been lights out this year on the mound.
This will be the second meeting between the two this year. Texas won a 2-0 decision over Rice in the Houston Classic last month.