Previewing the Austin Regional

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The Road to Omaha continues this weekend with NCAA regional action.

We take an in-depth look at all 16 NCAA regionals.

THE TEAMS
TeamConferenceRecordBerthLast NCAA appearance
1. TexasBig 1246-11At-large2009 (CWS final series)
2. RiceConference USA38-21At-large2009 (Baton Rouge SR)
3. La-LafayetteSun Belt37-20At-large2007 (College Station Regional)
4. RiderMetro Atlantic36-21Won MAAC2008 (Fullerton Regional)
THE BREAKDOWN
The favorite: Texas
1. Texas
2. Rice   
3. La.-Lafayette
4. Rider
The Longhorns left something to be desired in the Big 12 tournament last week, but there’s a strong chance they lacked motivation having already wrapped up a national seed. We’ll see which Texas team shows up this weekend. The Longhorns enter the postseason with just a .291 batting average, but utilize a great brand of small ball. On the mound, it doesn’t get better than the Longhorns. UT enters the regional with a 2.53 ERA and opponents are hitting it at just a .221 clip. It would be a surprise if the Longhorns didn’t advance to a super regional.
The dark-horse contender: Rice
The Owls had some consistency issues throughout the regular season, but they have played a much better brand of baseball the past few weeks. The Owls enter the postseason with a strong offensive lineup that is hitting .327. Though Rendon is the headliner for the Owls, veteran Diego Seastrunk (.377,9,49) also has blossomed the last half of the season. Rick Hague, Michael Fuda, Jimmy Comerota and Jeremy Rathjen are key hitters to watch. On the mound, Taylor Wall has been solid this spring and veteran Mike Ojala must have a strong weekend for the Owls to advance.
Best hitter: Rice 3B Anthony Rendon
He might’ve gotten off to a slow start this season, but Rendon has been absolutely on fire the past couple of months. He also is the leading candidate to earn Rivals.com National Player of the Year honors in a couple of weeks. Rendon is a key cog for the Owls, hitting .393 with 12 doubles, a triple, 23 homers and 78 RBIs. He also is slugging .787 and has a .532 on-base percentage. Rendon also is 14-for-18 in stolen bases. The Owls will have a fruitful weekend if Rendon is rolling.
Best pitcher: Texas RHP Chance Ruffin
The Longhorns have an excellent weekend rotation with Taylor Jungmann, Cole Green and Brandon Workman leading the way, but Ruffin is their best pitcher. Ruffin, of course, started last season, but moved to the closer’s role this season. He has been near flawless. Ruffin has made 34 appearances and recorded 13 saves and has a 0.77 ERA in 58 1/3 innings. He also has struck out 89 and walked 18 and opponents are hitting him at just a .176 clip. Ruffin is an integral piece to UT’s national title hopes.
The buzz
After missing the Big 12 tournament with an injury, Texas should get shortstop Brandon Loy back in the lineup this weekend. Loy is one of the nation’s elite defensive players, but also has brought some things to the table at the plate despite having just a .258 batting average. Speaking of individual player, it will be very interesting to see how Cole Green fares this weekend. Green had his worst start of the season against Texas A&M last weekend. Still, the outstanding righty still has a 2.64 ERA in 99 innings … We spoke with Rice coach Wayne Graham earlier this week and he hailed the play of veteran catcher Diego Seastrunk. Seastrunk battled some injury issues early in the season and didn’t get off to a great start. Seastrunk, though, is hitting at a high clip and a key leader for the Owls. Also keep an eye on Ojala this weekend. Ojala has flown under the radar this season, but the senior has a 3.80 ERA in 47 1/3 innings … Speaking of flying under the radar, that label applies to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns haven’t recorded many impressive RPI wins this season, but enter the regional with a fantastic 37-20 overall record. Keep an eye on senior right-handed pitcher Zach Osborne. Osborne has had a fabulous campaign and enters the weekend with a 2.56 ERA in 112 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 108 and walked 19 and teams are hitting him at just a .227 clip. Osborne is expected to start against Rice in the opener … Rider has compiled an impressive 36-21 record this season and hopes to play spoiler with Mike Thomas on the mound in the opener against Texas. Thomas has had a great season and hopes to play spoiler against Texas. Thomas has started 14 games and has a 3.59 ERA in 97 2/3 innings. He also has struck out 94 and walked 29 and teams are hitting him at just a .253 clip.