Oregon is the top seed in this weekend’s NCAA Baseball Tournament regional in Eugene, but statistically speaking the Rice Owls having the top pitching of the four teams squaring off.
No. 8 national seed Oregon, Rice, San Francisco and South Dakota State have arrived in Eugene and will spend the next three (or four) days determining who advances.
Rice is making its 19th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, but the Owls have not made it past the regional round since 2009.
The Ducks are making their third NCAA Tournament since the baseball program was restarted in 2009. Oregon won the regional it hosted last season. San Francisco is making its third NCAA appearance while this is the Jackrabbits first NCAA trip.
Play gets underway at 4 p.m. CST Friday when the Owls (41-17) battle the San Francisco Dons (34-22). Oregon (45-14) meets South Dakota State (35-22) at 8 p.m. CST Friday. Each of the 16 regionals are double elimination, with the winners advancing to the Super Regional round the following weekend.
Since pitching is typically such a vital component of postseason success, usedview.com has compared season pitching statistics for each team in a dozen categories. The team with the best stats was given 5 points for topping each category. The runner-up was awarded 3 points, third-best 2 points and then 1 point to the remaining team.
While this doesn’t take into account the strength opponent hitters, it should provide insight into the track record of pitching excellence, and what may transpire this weekend in Eugene.
Rice 45.5 points
Rice’s pitching was a thing of beauty during the Conference USA Tournament. Rice hurlers allowed just one run in the Owls three pool play wins over UAB, UCF and Memphis. Then closer Zech Lemond worked a career-long 6.2 innings in relief as Rice defeated Southern Mississippi 5-4 in 11 innings to win the title Sunday.
Of the four teams at the Oregon regional, Rice pitchers have the lowest ERA (2.72), the most shutouts (11), and the most strikeouts (453). They allowed the least hits (426) and earned runs (162). Opponents hit .223 against the Owls staff.
The only category where Rice finished third or fourth was walks. The Owls 193 free passes were the most of any regional participant.
Starters Austin Kubitza (8-4, 2.03, 119 strikeouts) and Jordan Stephens (7-4, 2.70 ERA, 84 strikeouts), pictured, give Rice a dynamic 1-2 punch at the start of the rotation. John Simms (8-3, 2.36 ERA) is dependable and Lemond (5-1, 1.19 ERA, 14 saves) often shuts the door.
Oregon 40.5 points
Led by sophomore Tommy Thorpe, the Oregon staff pitched well against Pac-12 foes and some tough non-conference opponents.
Of the four team in their regional, the Ducks gave up the least runs (199) and had the most wins (45) and saves (25). The team ERA of 2.79 was second only to Rice. The Ducks were also second in hits allowed, earned runs allowed, opponent batting average and strikeouts. Oregon wasn’t last in any category.
Thorpe, a sophomore from Vancouver, Wash., led the Ducks’ starters with a 2.22 ERA while finishing the regular season with a 7-4 record with a team-high 83 strikeouts in 97.1 innings pitched. He was among the Pac-12 leaders in six separate categories.
Cole Irving also had an impressive season for Oregon, going 11-3 with a 2.61 ERA. The third weekend starter is Jake Reed (6-5, 3.24 ERA, 59 strikeouts). Pictured is Jimmie Sherfy (2-0, 1.67 ERA), who saved 20 games and made 36 appearances. Garrett Cleavinger was 8-0 coming out of the pen with an ERA of 1.41.
South Dakota State 29 points
The Jackrabbits starters won the longevity award. South Dakota State starters completed seven games this season, three more than any of the other teams in the Oregon regional. As for weaknesses, South Dakota State gave up the most runs (234) and opponents hit .262 against them, the highest of the four teams set to play in Eugene.
Pictured is Layne Somsen (4-5, 1.95 ERA, 85 strikeouts) who completed three games and was the named the Summit League Pitcher of the year. Stephen Bougher went 8-2 with a 2.89 ERA and pitched two shutouts.
The other starters are typically Adam Bray (7-2, 3.19 ERA) and Kolton Emery (4-5, 4.45 ERA). Closer J.D. Moore (0-1 1.67 ERA 13 saves) gave up just five runs all season.
San Francisco 19 points
While the Dons weren’t awful at the mound, they didn’t compare favorable in many categories to Oregon, Rice and South Dakota State.
The good news is walks. San Francisco gave up only 142 all season (an average of 2.5 a game). They also gave up eight less runs than the Jackrabbits. The bad news is San Francisco ranked last in eight of the 12 categories, including ERA (3.46), complete games (1), saves (14), and hits (491).
Pictured is Alex Balog (3-3, 3.69 ERA, 63 strikeouts) who had the best numbers of Dons pitchers with more than six starts. Abe Bob (5-5, 3.79 ERA) and Christian Cecilio (3-3, 4.11 ERA) also were in the rotation most of the season. Arguable the Dons best pitcher this season has been Haden Hinkle. In 18 appearances he is 9-1 with an ERA of 1.83.