Seeking their 21st consecutive conference championship, the Rice University baseball team has begun their fall training and have announced their season schedule. According to the Owls’ newly released 2016 schedule, they will open their season with a home game against the University of Arizona on Feb. 16. That will be the first of 54 regular season games, 31 of which will be at Reckling Park.
Rice will begin its slate of Conference USA games on March 18 in San Antonio against the University of Texas, San Antonio. They will then play a three-game series against conference foes Old Dominion University, Middle Tennessee State University, the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Western Kentucky University, the University of Southern Mississippi and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
The Owls will face off against defending Conference USA champion Florida International University May 6-8 in Miami before playing Florida Atlantic University, which ranked No. 24 in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at the end of last season. Rice will finish conference play with a three-game series against Louisiana Tech University May 19-21.
According to senior pitcher Blake Fox, the Owls cannot overlook their conference schedule despite the limited number of nationally ranked teams.
“You’ve got to give credit to our conference,” Fox said. “We definitely have some teams that are tough opponents and we’ve seen that in the past.”
Strong opponents will come from both inside and outside Conference USA. The Owls will take on seven different teams that ranked in the top 25 of the USA Today Coaches’ Poll at the end of the 2015 season. The first of those games will come on Feb. 23 against Dallas Baptist University, which finished the 2015 season ranked No. 17 in the country and qualified for the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in the past five years. Then, beginning on Feb. 26, the Owls will take part in the Minute Maid Classic held at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros. During this event, they will play three opponents that were ranked last season: the University of Arkansas, Texas Christian University and University of Louisiana, Lafayette.
Senior infielder Grayson Lewis said many of the players are especially excited to play Louisiana-Lafayette because the Ragin’ Cajuns eliminated the Owls from the NCAA tournament regionals last season.
“We definitely owe Louisiana-Lafayette a little something after regionals,” Lewis said.
Rice will begin its annual series against the University of Houston with a game at Cougar Field on March 22. The Owls will play Houston two more times, on May 10 and 17. The Cougars ranked No. 23 in the coaches’ poll at the end of the 2015 season with a record of 43-20, but the Owls eliminated them from the NCAA tournament with a 3-2 win in 20 innings. Houston, however, won last season’s regular season series over Rice two games to one. According to Fox, the games against Houston will be some of the most fun for him as a player.
“Just because of the way the [Houston] games went last year, I’m definitely looking forward to those games,” Fox said. “I’d say those games are the ones I’m looking forward to most.”
Rice will finish its slate of games against last year’s top 25 with matchups against Texas A&M University on April 5 and conference foe FAU in mid-May. Other non-conference opponents include Texas State University, Sam Houston State University, the University of Central Florida, Lamar University and East Carolina University. While the schedule is long and full of highly ranked opponents, the players feel optimistic. When asked about his hopes for the season, senior infielder Connor Teykl said only two words.
“Obviously, Omaha,” Teykl said, referencing the city that hosts the College World Series.
The Owls will hope to make a trip to the College World Series for the first time since 2008. While the regular season does not start until February, Rice’s journey to Omaha has already begun. The Owls will play an exhibition game against Lamar, one of their 2016 opponents, on Saturday, Oct. 17 at Reckling Park.