After utilizing a late season run to clinch the Conference USA regular season title and a 4-3 win over rival University of Houston in the conference tournament championship, the baseball team was rewarded with the final national seed on Selection Monday. The Owls would host the University of California-Berkeley, Baylor University and Alcorn State University in a regional at Reckling Park as the nation's No. 8 seed, looking to avenge a few early season losses en route to Omaha.
Head Coach Wayne Graham's squad dominated an overmatched Alcorn State team in the Houston Regional opener as Abe Gonzales (Sid Rich '11) threw a complete game and the Owls amassed 22 hits as a team in a 14-2 romp. But facing Baylor in the winner's bracket, the Rice bats were held in check after a pair of errors in the field gave Baylor an early 3-0 lead. The Owls would add two runs in the sixth inning, but stranded multiple runners in the seventh and eighth innings and could not scratch across a run to even the score. Baylor would take the game by a 3-2 margin, forcing Rice to play an elimination game against Cal the next day.
With then-junior Matthew Reckling taking the hill as Rice looked to stave off elimination, the Owls jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second on three Cal errors. But after a scoreless third inning, Cal would even the game on a two-run single in the fourth. With the game deadlocked at 2-2, freshman outfielder Keenan Cook drove a one-out pitch over the right field fence to put Rice up 3-2 in the fifth inning. Reckling would pitch a scoreless fifth inning and would be removed from the game with his team up by a run. Cal would get to the Owls' bullpen in the seventh inning with an RBI single after a base hit and sac bunt started the inning. And with the game tied 3-3, Cal would pull ahead for good after a lengthy lightning delay when the Rice defense fell apart at the seams, with the infield committing three errors in the bottom of the eighth to give the Bears three unearned runs and a 6-3 lead. Rice would put two runners on base in the ninth but could not score, ending the game and concluding the 2011 baseball season for the Owls. Cal would go on to defeat Baylor in the Houston Regional final and earn a fifth place finish at the College World Series.
After a disappointing end to the season, Owls fans turned their focus to the June 6 Major League Baseball Draft, where junior All- American third baseman Anthony Rendon was expected to go among the first few picks. Rendon was taken sixth overall by the Washington Nationals, with whom he then signed a $7.2 million contract on August 17, officially ending his baseball career at Rice. Rendon's stellar career at Rice places him in the top five in program history in home runs, batting average, total bases, and slugging percentage, and is highlighted by a National Player of the Year award in 2010. Among the other Owls to be selected in the draft were Tony Cingrani (3rd round by the Cincinnati Reds), Reckling (22nd round by the Cleveland Indians), Gonzales (33rd round by the Kansas City Royals), and senior Jeremy Rathjen (41st round by the New York Yankees). Cingrani and Gonzales joined Rendon in signing professional contracts, as they had exhausted their collegiate eligibilities, but Reckling and Rathjen have both elected to come back to Rice for the 2012 baseball season. The only Owls recruit of note to bypass a commitment for professional baseball was shortstop Chris McFarland, who instead elected to sign with the Brewers. Highly touted pitching recruit Jordan Stephens chose to wait on the professional ranks, as he will likely compete for a spot in the starting rotation come spring time. The Owls bring back one of the best pitching staffs in the nation for the 2012 season, where they figure to be a top 10 preseason team. The end to the 2011 campaign was certainly a letdown, but hope looms on the horizon for fans of the Rice baseball program.