Austin Regional: On The Precipice

I planned to reference this set of statistics presented by the esteemed Boyd Nation the other day but it slipped my mind. While statistics are cruel, heartless and devoid of emotion, the search for a medium between absolute production and stats' influence on perception intrigues.

While 1 Texas opened the season as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation, 2 Rice was a consensus top-5 program. The Longhorns have lived up to that advanced billing, riding a 21-game win streak to the No. 2 national seed in the NCAA Tournament. Most observers would claim that the Owls underperformed relative to their talent, not only failing to secure a national seed for the NCAAs but a slot as a regional host. Injuries played a minimal role in this unexpected result (Sr. C Diego Seastrunk missed a dozen games in late-February through early-March), so the fact remains that the Owls' roster is one featuring top-5 national talent.

So, taking the Owls' preseason perception in a vacuum and measuring that against how Texas was perceived and how it actually performed, is Rice deserving of better than a 22% chance of winning the Austin Regional? How about if one factors in the Owls' 7-3 record against Texas over the prior 10 series meetings? Bill Parcells said you are what your record says you are, but if the Owls were a top-5 team without Sr. RHP Mike Ojala healthy and thriving, what are they now? Are they truly a 38-21 outfit, or is this a roster capable of a serious run to Omaha?

That is something to consider as you ponder which set of Owls will show this weekend at The Disch. Perhaps it isn't so much about inconsistency, but rather this team finally fulfilling its vast potential. There are moments when the Owls' confidence appears brazen given the results of the regular season, but in the final analysis why shouldn't they possess a certifiable swagger? They were viewed by most pundits as the fifth-best team in the nation coming into this season, and now that they are as healthy as they have been at any point in 2010, they have every reason to believe that they can defeat the behemoth that is the Longhorns. The talent gap between No. 1 and No. 5 isn't that significant. It certainly isn't worth 54.5 percentage points.

And now, some interesting quotes from the Owls' pre-regional presser:

"Texas may have the best pitching staff in the history of Division I. Our 2003 staff would probably stack up fairly well with them, but this is a great pitching staff at Texas this year."

-- The OG on the Longhorns' utter mound dominance. Texas paces the nation in ERA (2.53).

"You can't talk about someone being the best compared to (Lance) Berkman until they do it over a long period of time. Certainly at this stage of his career, Anthony is equal to anybody we've ever had."

-- The OG on the mounting comparisons of So. 3B Anthony Rendon to former Rice All-American Lance Berkman. Without delving too deep into conversations The OG and I have had on this subject, I should point out that The OG was quick to acknowledge that Rendon plays a premium defensive position, and that he does so with precision and extraordinary flair.

"We have to approach it the way we've played these past few weeks. I feel like we're more focused. We were so inconsistent earlier that it was easy for us to lose focus. I think now that we've gotten through those challenges and we've overcome the up-and-down part of the season, these guys are ready. I think they're ready to take on that task, underdog or not."

-- Sr. C Diego Seastrunk on the Owls opening regional play on the road for the first time in five seasons, and doing so as a decided underdog to regional host and No. 2 national seed Texas.

"It's definitely some incentive. We all have incentive when we come up here to Disch-Falk and get a chance to play up here against these guys. That's the thing: all the guys on the team have played together so it never really gets ugly. But we all have a little added incentive knowing the guys on the other side of the field."

-- Seastrunk on the rivalry with Texas. The Owls have played the Longhorns 11 times since Seastrunk joined the program in 2007 and have posted a 7-4 record against Texas during that span. In 10 games against the Longhorns, Seastrunk is batting .281 with 1 homer and 7 RBIs.

"I didn't see the ball at all at our park. He kept throwing me sliders and sliders, and I just kept fouling them off - I was on my front foot. On a 3-2 count I just threw the bat out there and it went over the left-field fence. I don't know how I did it."

-- Rendon, asked to describe his best and worst at-bat against Texas, on his leadoff home run off Texas Jr. RHP Kendal Carrillo in the fifth inning of the Owls' 10-6 win over Texas on March 16 at Reckling Park. The OG chimed in to note in a self-deprecating fashion, "I never did that."
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