The Houston Regional is unique in that there are actually three teams from Houston playing in the four-team pool.
The Houston Cougars are the host, but joining them are the Rice Owls and Houston Baptist Huskies. The non-Houston team is 3-seed Louisiana-Lafayette.
At 42-18, the Cougars won the American Conference regular season championship, but lost to East Carolina in the AAC Championship Game last week. Their only true series loss came to Memphis in the first weekend of April.
UH has actually played all three other teams in their regional at some point this season. The Cougars lost to Houston Baptist at home on March 3rd by a score of 2-1. They also won two-of-three midweek games against Rice over the course of the season, and lost a 6-5 contest at Louisiana on April 7th.
Rice seemed to float around the Top 20 in the rankings all year, but after a sweep at Florida Atlantic a couple weeks ago, the Owls may be finding their stride at the right time. I saw them play in person when they traveled to Tucson to take on Arizona early in the year, and they were not particularly impressive, especially in the field. That trend continued, as they finished 182nd in fielding percentage. As long as they can get to closer Matt Dittman, the Owls will be in good shape.
The non-Houston school in this group may be the most dynamic. The Ragin’ Cajuns have the most noteworthy player of the four teams with shortstop Blake Trahan, who is hitting .336, and is a great defender as well. Overall, ULL is a very solid club in all aspects, but not one particular thing sticks out as its biggest strength.
Houston Baptist is fun because they finished 7th in the Southland, but in that conference tournament, the top four seeds were the first four teams eliminated, leaving the Cougars having to get through the 5-8 seeds to earn the automatic bid, and they did just that. One thing about them is that they don’t give up a lot of free bases. Their pitching staff gave up the sixth-fewest walks per nine innings in the country.
This has the feeling of a region that could easily be won by any of the top-three seeds, but I think Houston has proven over the long run that they are the best team here, and will get through what is essentially the Houston City Championship. But it would not be shocking if Rice or ULL gets out of this.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports