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Kubitza hopes to shine again

By Farrah Madanay     2/15/12 6:00pm

Austin Kubitza may only be a sophomore but the amount of accolades he has garnered since post-baseball season last year are enough to confuse him with any seasoned upper-classman. As a freshman, Kubitza earned his way to the coveted spot of the Rice University Owls' Friday-night starting pitcher. If there was any speculation regarding Coach Wayne Graham's choice to start the right-handed rookie, Kubitza put it to bed by posting impressive results, such as the most strikeouts by an Owl in four years. Regardless of his consistent pre-season performances on the mound, Kubitza himself was just as surprised by his starting assignment as a freshman.

"It was definitely unexpected. I was lucky enough that Coach Graham believed I could do it and that I was able to produce," Kubitza said.

Though Kubitza was honored as the Conference USA 2011 Freshman of the Year and enters this 2012 season tabbed as the C-USA Pre-season Pitcher of the Year, he remains humble in light of the distinctions.

"It's nice to be recognized but I still have the whole season to go," Kubitza said.

The Owls face a challenging 2012 season, especially with the loss of infielder Anthony Rendon (Wiess '11) and closing pitcher Tony Cingrani. Last season's early end, when the Owls fell 6-3 to University of California-Berkeley at the NCAA Regional, is a bitter memory that Kubitza hopes will motivate him and the Owls to Omaha this year, he said.

"Last year we ended prematurely so we want to put ourselves in the spot at the end of the regular season to be a national seed and go further than we did last year, not embarrass ourselves at home again," Kubitza said.

According to Kubitza, the Owls are on the right track to playing well this season. Kubitza is confident in the preparation of the team and feels ready for the upcoming three-game series season opener against Florida International University at Reckling Stadium starting today.

"Our pitchers are doing well and our hitting is amazing so we're pretty excited," Kubitza said.

Kubitza stayed in baseball shape and worked on his pitches this summer, playing for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League, alongside fellow Rice teammates Brad Kottman, Tyler Pearson and Michael Ratteree. Kubitza participated in the league on a suggestion from his older brother, Kyle Kubitza, who graduated last year from Texas State and now plays for the Minor League team the Atlanta Danville Braves.

"My brother told me a lot about it as well as some of the guys that are on the team now. It was a lot of fun, the weather was nice and it was a good experience," Kubitza said.

Though Kubitza said he did not think he performed at his best with the Foresters, the CCL thought otherwise. The CCL named him to the league's all-star team and ranked him as its top professional prospect. Kubitza is scheduled to play in the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts next summer, he said.

Kubitza chose Rice over other schools because he thought he would see the pitch a lot more during game-time, he said.

"At other schools I was looking at, I didn't think I would get the same baseball opportunities as I would here. Of course the academics are better here too," Kubitza said.

In spite of his 6'5" frame and intimidating 90 miles per hour fastball, off the pitch Kubitza is a relatable Sport Management major living on-campus at Martel College. His plea for greater student attendance at games shows how well he really does know his peers.

"Why not come out? It's a weekend, I know you don't do your homework until Sunday anyway," Kubitza said, smiling.

Catch the right-hander this weekend getting in the zone before every pitch with headphones on.

Kubitza's song of choice? "Can't be Touched" by Roy Jones Jr.

"I listen to the same song right before I go out and pitch," he said.

Perhaps Rice has Jones Jr. to thank for this under-classman's 2011 Third Team All-American success. What is for certain is this: Though this humble sophomore may not be one for words, when he is on the mound there is one word he hears time and again: "Strike!"

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