Play Ball – 2012 Rice Baseball Season Begins Friday at Reckling Park

February 16, 2012

When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, Rice University began a year-long celebration of its Centennial.  If venerable baseball coach Wayne Graham has his way, one of the most exciting chapters of that celebration will get its start on Friday at Reckling Park and continue on through a June trip north to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series.

Highlighted by a pitching staff he has favorably compared to the legendary staff that led Rice to a CWS title in 2003, the 2012 Owls have been consistently mentioned by every preseason breakdown as one of the teams most likely to have their tickets punched for Omaha.

All the action commences on Friday, when the Owls welcome FIU to Reckling Park, which continues to marvel baseball fans as one of the finest venues to take in a college baseball game in the country.  Opening Day commences with a first pitch at 4:30 on Friday, followed by games at 2 pm on Saturday and noon on Sunday.

With four preseason all-conference players, including sophomore Austin Kubitza as the 2012 Preseason Pitcher of the Year, the Rice baseball team was picked to finish first in the league in the annual Conference USA head coaches’ poll.   They also head into the season with numerous top 10 rankings, including the preseason No. 6 spot in the Baseball America poll.

The preseason honors continue to stream-in for Kubitza, a third team preseason All-America selection by both Collegiate Baseball magazine and the College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA). A year ago Kubitza had an outstanding debut season at the Division I level where he was named a Freshman All-America. He went 6-5 on the mound in his role as the Owls’ Friday night starter (where he was often matched against the opposing team’s ace pitcher). The right-hander from Colleyville, Tex., led the Owls’ and ranked among the C-USA leaders in ERA (2.34), innings (100.0) and strikeouts (102). Early in his rookie season he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the annual Houston College Classic tournament held downtown at Minute Maid Park. He was named the C-USA 2011 Freshman of the Year and to the All-Freshman Team on a vote of the league’s head coaches and media members.

Though he was sidelined with an injury for most of last season, Jeremy Rathjen’s return to Rice’s 2012 lineup was not lost on the C-USA coaches. In 2011 Rathjen started each of the first 16 games in centerfield and as the cleanup hitter where he hit .295. The Houston native from Memorial High School was leading the team in RBI, doubles, multi-hit and multi-RBI games before getting sidelined, but didn’t play the final two-thirds of the season. In June Rathjen was regarded high enough to be selected in the major league draft by the New York Yankees, but he chose not to sign professionally and returned to Rice with a redshirt season.

Ratterree was named to the C-USA outfield, his new position on the team after starting 58 games at second base last season. The 6-foot-1 junior led the Owls (and finished third in C-USA) in both RBI (53) and total bases (125), while sharing the team lead in hitting (.327) and home runs (6). The Houston native and fellow Memorial High School star’s hitting in the second half of the season helped pave the way to Rice’s C-USA regular season co-championship. In addition to having at least one base hit in 30-of-32 games from April 3 until the end of the year, Ratterree hit an eye-opening .421 with a .640 slugging percentage and 25 runs scored over the team’s final 25 games. Last month Collegiate Baseball selected Ratterree to its preseason All-America squad as a second team outfielder.

Duffey finished third in the conference in appearances (30) and tied for third in the league in wins (8) to go along with a 2.52 ERA, but his sterling play in the second half of the season made the biggest impression on C-USA coaches. Over his last 34.1 innings of the season he maintained a 0.79 ERA, held opponents to a .206 batting average and allowed just one extra-base hit. The area standout from nearby Bellaire High School was named the MVP of the C-USA Tournament after two brilliant outings over a three-day span where Rice claimed the league title and automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.

The 2012 roster features on Lamar HS product (Daniel Gonzalez-Luna) who has seen considerable time in his first two seasons in a reserve role and another (John Williamson) who will be looking to break into the playing rotation in his first year with the team.

Last spring the Rice baseball team went 42-21 and advanced to an NCAA Regional for a 17th-straight year. Under the direction of head coach Wayne Graham, who is now in his 21st season at the helm of the program, the Owls have won at least 40 games in each of the last 17 seasons and have won or shared 16-consecutive conference championships (including regular season and/or conference tournament titles).

Rice returns 22 experienced lettermen to the roster in 2012, including eight returning starters in the field and a host of veteran pitchers. The Owls have a highly-touted group of incoming freshmen players making their Division I debut this spring.

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InstantNewsWestu Staff

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