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Looking Back at This Weekend's Houston College Classic

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John Royal
Rice's Michael Ratterree slides across the plate to score a run yesterday against Baylor
The 11th Houston College Classic was played at Minute Maid Park this weekend, and though it's only March, it's probably safe to say that the best baseball to be played in Minute Maid Park this season has now already been played.

The tournament featured three of Baseball America's Top 25 baseball squads with 16th-ranked Baylor, number 20 Texas A&M and 21 Rice. The so-called sacrificial lambs for the ranked clubs were Houston, Kentucky and Utah, but the sacrificial lambs, specifically the Utah Utes, refused to take their sacrificial status lying down, as Utah won two of their three games, including wins over the Aggies and Bears.

So let's look at the Winners and Losers of the Classic.

THE WINNERS:

1. The Utah Utes. The Utes were 0-5 coming into the weekend, but behind superb pitching from starters Rick Anton and Zach Adams, the Utes were able to pull off the upsets over the Aggies and Bears. A loss to Kentucky in yesterday's matinee was the only blemish for a Utah team looking to restore some luster to the season.

2. The Baylor Bears. The Bears were upset by Utah on Saturday afternoon, but went 2-1 for the series, defeating the Cougars on Friday night and the Owls in an extra-inning thriller on Sunday night that ended on a Baylor grand slam.

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John Royal
The Utah Utes were the surprise of the Classic
3. Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon did almost nothing to harm his draft stock over the weekend. He was on base constantly and hit two doubles over the series to go with a homer on Sunday against Baylor. He was intentionally walked several times, and he got on base multiple times using the Craig Biggio method -- he got hit by the pitch. He even put in some time at first base while his shoulder continues to improve. His only blunder came in the sixth inning yesterday when he got thrown out at home trying to score on a wild pitch.

4. Austin Kubitza: The Owls freshman starter came into the weekend without a win despite fantastic pitching performances against Stanford and USC. So, joking that he was going to have to do it all himself, Kubitza went out on Saturday night and shut down the Aggies, throwing 88 pitches in a complete game that lasted just one hour and 45 minutes -- a Houston College Classic record.

Owls coach Wayne Graham compared Kubitza's focus in the game to that of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in a game where Kubitza threw two pitches, a fastball and a slider, wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted.

"I was like, hey, I'm pitching a shutout, y'all just need to get me a run," Kubitza joked. "So be it. Everything was just there for me."

And for his efforts, Kubitza was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

5. Minute Maid Park: the Astros got to work the kinks out of their new giant-ass video screen a month before the Astros return to start the regular season. And the board does look nice. It will be fun to see what they do with it once the season gets started. But they had real problems with the scoreboard portion, often having the score and ball/strike count wrong. So it's a good thing the Astros season has yet to start.

THE LOSERS:

1. The Texas A&M Aggies: the Aggies came into this weekend with a sterling early season record of 8-1 while climbing the college baseball rankings. Then they were completely shut down in the first two games of the weekend, squeezing out one run against Utah while being shut out by Rice before stomping all over Houston last night. It's one thing to beat up on teams like Le Moyne, Prairie View, Texas-Pan American and Houston, but at some point, you've got to face some actual competition, and the Aggies failed the real-competition test.

2. The Rice Owls: Except for Austin Kubitza, the Owls' starting pitching struggled mightily this series, with neither Matthew Reckling nor John Simms making it past the fourth inning as the Owls lost two of three games even though they won two of three games. The Rice offense struggled with the timely hitting thing, and the Owls cost themselves several runs with shoddy base running yesterday. But the real worry part must be the pitching.

"The whole schedule is aimed at getting these guys ready, these young pitchers ready," Graham said Saturday night. "Throw them in the fire and get them ready. Because we can't win if we don't have them."

And right now, but for Kubitza, who has been solid in every start, the Owls don't have it.

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John Royal
Ryan Still singles in a run for the Cougars on Friday afternoon
3. The Kentucky Wildcats: The Wildcats had no trouble scoring runs against the Owls and Cougars, but their pitching was awful. Then they faced Utah on Sunday and had trouble scoring runs in the one game where their pitching was rock solid. But the two runs they were able to eke out on Sunday were enough to get the win over Utah, which was enough to keep the Wildcats from a winless weekend.

4. The Houston Cougars. The Cougars lost two of the three games this weekend, and they looked awful against the Aggies last night, losing 11-4, and they were completely shut down by Baylor on Friday. They beat Kentucky on Saturday, but struggled to do so.

"The thing I talked to the team...about is we have to make a decision that we're going to be good," Cougar coach Todd Whitting said after Friday's game. "If we execute our offense in that game, we put ourselves in a position to win that game. That's going to be a tipping point with this program from this point forward is, do we have the swagger, do we have the confidence, when we get into situations to drive runs in, to have quality at bats. And right now, the past [four] games, that's not happening.

5. Those fans hoping that Ashley Judd, a renowned Kentucky basketball fan, would also follow the baseball team on its travels. But also, she was nowhere to be seen at Minute Maid Park this weekend.


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