Feb. 20, 2014
Probable Pitching Matchups
Friday: Patrick Kenney (So, RHP) vs. Rice's Jordan Stephens (Jr, RHP)
Saturday: Jordan Minch (So, LHP) vs. Rice's Blake Fox (So, LHP)
Sunday: TBA vs. Rice's Kevin McCanna (So, RHP)
Weekend Weather Forecast for Houston
Friday: 69 degrees, clear skies
Saturday: 73 degrees, clear skies
Sunday: 75 degrees, clear skies
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- As the Boilermakers travel to the state of Texas for the first time since 2009, they're set to take on an 11th-ranked Rice team that represents the first of five preseason conference favorites on Purdue baseball's schedule this year.
First pitch at Reckling Park in South Central Houston is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (all times ET).
The Boilermakers (0-3) are visiting the home of the Rice Owls (3-2) for the first time since the 2005 spring break trip. Purdue also made a season-opening splash at Reckling Park in February 2001 when it defeated No. 1 Rice and a nationally-ranked Wake Forest team at a four-team tournament. The Owls were the top-ranked team in Collegiate Baseball's weekly poll early that season, but Ben Quick led the Boilers to a 5-2 victory with a complete-game effort in which he struck out nine.
Purdue has not played in the state of Texas since getting swept in a three-game series at Texas State (San Marcos) in March 2009. Along with 2001, 2005 and 2009, the Boilers also made trips to Texas in 2002 (series at Texas-San Antonio) and 2008 (series at Baylor) for season-opening weekends during head coach Doug Schreiber's tenure (1999-present).
Rice has been to 19 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, advancing to the College World Series seven times during the remarkable streak. The Owls won the national title in 2003. Head coach Wayne Graham, how 77 years old and in his 23rd year at Rice, won his 1,000th career game as the leader of the program Tuesday with an 11-inning victory against Texas State. The Owls are the preseason favorites in Conference USA this year after winning the Eugene Regional of the NCAA Tournament last season.
Purdue will give Patrick Kenney a chance to start on the mound for the first time in his college career Friday. The sophomore right-hander has a live arm and is one of the pitching staff's hardest throwers. He earned three saves early in his freshman season, but has battled control problems as a Boilermaker and not really excelled when entering the game with inherited runners on base. The coaching staff's thinking is Kenney could benefit from the opportunity to start a game with a clean slate. Jordan Minch will take the ball Saturday after doing OK in his season-opening start at Tennessee, working 4 2/3 innings of two-run ball.
Along with playing well defensively and putting the ball in play often, a group of Purdue relievers were another of the team's bright spots amidst an otherwise tough season-opening weekend in Knoxville. The quintet of Gavin Downs (5 IP, 1 R), Joe Eichmann (2 1/3 IP, 1 R), Mike Lutz (2 IP, 0 R), Matt Frawley (2 IP, 0 R) and Tim McElroy 1 2/3 IP, 0 R) for 13 innings of three-run ball, a respectable weekend showing for a bullpen. But the Boilers' relievers were asked to pitch 18 of the 24 innings in the season-opening series. As the starters get stretched out and the weekend rotation solidifies in the weeks leading up to Big Ten play, the bullpen should not be as taxed.
Rice opened a six-game homestand Tuesday with its win against Texas State before losing to intra-city rival Houston on Wednesday. Being able to play midweek games, whether they're home or away, in February is yet another advantage the southern teams have in college baseball. None of the Big Ten teams are scheduled to play a midweek game until the first week of March. Additional live game at-bats and reps in the field early in the season help teams get up to speed faster.
The Owls opened the season with a quality road series win at Stanford. Pitchers Matt Ditman (4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10 K in relief) and Blake Fox (6 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 K) led the way as Rice won the first two games of the series. Ditman worked 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball as the starting pitcher Wednesday against Houston, so Purdue may not see him until later in the series if at all. Fox is the first left-handed starter Purdue will face this year. Friday starter Jordan Stephens (8 wins, 2.43 ERA, 100 Ks in 118 IP in 2013) and closer Zech Lemond (14 saves, 2.02 ERA, 71 Ks in 75 IP in 2013) are two other power arms to watch for the Owls; both were among the top 70 in Perfect Game USA's preseason list of junior class prospects.
Offensively, first baseman Skyler Ewing has begun the new season swinging a hot bat. He was named the National Hitter of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association after recording multiple hits and multiple RBI in all three games of the series win at Stanford. He's 11-for-21 with 2 doubles, 2 home runs, nine RBI and only one strikeout in the first five games. Ewing is one of six position players back after being regular starters a year ago.