HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – Three of the six teams participating in this weekend’s Houston College Baseball Classic are ranked in Baseball America’s Top 25. The other three are young and very good teams on the rise.
Arkansas, Rice, and Texas are nationally ranked 4, 5, and 21 respectively. Tennessee, Texas Tech, and Houston are the other three. These six teams will slug it out Friday through Sunday at Minute Maid Park.
Rice Head Coach Wayne Graham, who learned Friday that he will be inducted into College Baseball’s Hall of Fame and whose Owls are 8-0, sees this tournament as an opportunity to help grow the sport and increase the visibility of college baseball. But most importantly, the competition level needs to be elevated.
“There’s not enough high level competition in the preseason in college baseball and we need more and more of it. There needs to be pressure basically through the RPI – I don’t know – for people to go on the road and play good opponents. The game is going to be better the higher the level of competition every season.”
“This is a time when the Majors are not playing. We need to grab a hold of that and get exposure through high competition.”
COMPETITIVE THEY ARE
That was pretty much the theme during the time shared with the coaches from the respective institutions. Each has a thought, more specifically, an opportunity to get to Omaha. But, playing well in this tournament is most critical according to all the coaches. It’s the impetus to college baseball’s Promised Land.
“It’s the process. It isn’t about this season,” said Tennessee first year Head Baseball Coach, Dave Serrano, whose Volunteers are 7-1. ”I’m in this for the long haul. What we’re trying to build is something that will be lasting. And, we’re trying to build structure right now – a structure that will be strong in every corner.”
“I’m not going to define our season, this program, by this weekend. I did something when I got there. They have a slogan in our locker-room; 921 miles to Omaha. I’ve been to Omaha with different teams as an assistant and a head coach. That’s what my ultimate goal is of any program I’m in.”
Serrano, who guided UC Irvine and Fullerton to the College World Series in 2006 and 2009 respectively, pitched for current Texas Head Coach Augie Garrido at Cal State Fullerton back in 1986. Garrido’s Longhorns are 2-5, but ranked 21st in the nation. He says his Longhorns must get back to the basics. But even with the bad start, Garrido believes he and team have a shot to get to Omaha.
“It’s possible, it’s possible. In reality, the five freshmen who started for us last year have put way too much pressure on themselves. They expected to come out and get every hit and drive in every run and when that didn’t happen for them, they became very frustrated because they hadn’t experienced that before. But, we play the season a week at a time. What’s important at this point for us is to maintain structure and make sure the players recognize that we believe in them – we have confidence in them.”
“We probably have more confidence in them right now than maybe they have in themselves. And if we show our confidence in this tournament, and play our game in this tournament, we’re going to be satisfied with whether it’s a “W” or an “L” because we’re going to move forward. We’re not here to prove anything by winning the game although winning the game is mandatory. We know that.
“But, if we lose the game, why did we lose it and we look for the answer to that so we can become a better ball club.”
Speaking of becoming a better ballclub, Houston is in the same position. The Cougars stand at 4-4 and Head Coach Todd Whitting is looking for that added spark.
“If we come out and play this weekend, it’s going to give our guys confidence. That’s one thing that our ballclub needs is a shot of confidence, a shot of playing in a tournament like this knowing that we can compete. I know we can compete. I see us every day in practice. I know how we prepare. It’s basically we have to have more will at times.”
Whitting also added that once his team begins to play with lots of confidence, they will begin to see the success.
Play gets underway at 12:05 with Texas Tech taking on Arkansas. Houston will face Tennessee at 3:35 and the in the night cap, the Texas Longhorns face the undefeated Rice Owls.
Arkansas will face Houston on Saturday afternoon at 12:05 in the first of three while Texas will play Tennessee at 3:35. Rice will then play the Texas Tech Red Raiders at 7:05.
The schedule switches up a bit with an earlier start time of 11:05 which will put Texas against Arkansas. Houston will face Texas Tech at 2:35 and the finale will feature Rice taking on Tennessee at 6:05 Sunday night.