It's about that time of year again, folks! Baseball season is about to be in full s..."/> It's about that time of year again, folks! Baseball season is about to be in full s..."/>

UT Baseball: Houston College Classic Preview


It’s about that time of year again, folks! Baseball season is about to be in full swing (pun intended). This weekend, the Vols head to Houston for the 12th annual Houston College Classic. The Classic features 6 teams: Tennessee, Arkansas, Rice, Texas Tech, Houston, and Texas. Tennessee will begin play at 4:30 PM EST on Friday against Houston before taking on, Texas at 4:30 EST Saturday and Rice at 7:00 EST Sunday.

Why This is Important

Not only will the Vols get to play on a major league field (all games are to be held at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros), but this will be a very good barometer for this somewhat unproven team. The SEC is the best conference in college baseball, and last year the Tennessee finished an abysmal 7-23 in SEC play, missing the conference tournament by 7 games. This year, with Coach Dave Serrano at the helm, the team has surged out to one of the best starts in school history as they currently sit 7-1. However, their combined opponent record is a dismal 9-21. So, these 3 games against quality programs will give Volunteer fans the best look at how good this team really is before SEC play begins March 16th.


As mentioned above, the Vols have leaped out to 7-1 start with sweeps over Northern Illinois and Seton Hall, as well as a victory over Western Kentucky; with their only loss coming to Middle Tennessee State. Seton Hall won the Big East tournament last year, and holds 2 wins against Big Ten teams this year (Penn State and Northwestern). They sit at 2-5 overall. Northern Illinois has yet to win a game this season 0-7, but they have played a tough schedule. They dropped series to Tennesse and No. 24 Texas Tech, and lost a 10 inning game to No. 18 St. John’s. Western Kentucky holds a 2-6 record on the season, and MTSU sits at a respectable 5-3.

Regardless of the opponents, the Vols are off to a good start statistically. Their average sits at .289, they’re at a very respectable .396 slugging percentage, and an even better on-base percentage .423. Pitching-wise the team is also putting up good statistics with a 2.05 team ERA to go along with 50 K’s and just 29 walks issued in 79 innings.

Drew Steckenrider is leading the charge all around, putting up a .387 average, an astounding .615 on-base percentage, and an astronomically high 1.407 OPS (On-base plus Slugging, its a better statistic for evaluating a hitter’s value than Average, but that is another discussion for another day.) in 36 plate appearances. He was the Vols opening day starting pitcher, and he has posted an ERA of 1.29 with 6 strikeouts and 4 walks in 7 innings. He leads the team with a 1.000 Fielding percentage as well.

There are some causes for concern with this team, however. They are 19-30 on stolen base attempts which amounts to 63.3%. Conversely, they have given up 7 stolen bases in 8 attempts. This team has run into too many outs on the basepaths. You name it, the Vols have messed it up. Be it, failed hit-and-runs, missed signs, botched bunt attempts, botched squeeze attempts, getting picked off, getting caught stealing, they’ve done it all. Another cause for concern is errors, they have committed 14 – 1.75 a game, which is way too many.


Houston comes into this game sporting a 4-4 record, having swept Delaware, taken 1 of 3 from Texas State, and dropped games to Texas A&M Corpus Christi and No. 4 Rice. They come into the game with a .264 team average, .330 slugging, and a respectable .378 on-base.

The Cougars are led on offense by Senior infielder Jake Runte. He has compiled a .344 average, with a .447 OBP, and a .947 OPS in 38 at bats. Price Jacobs has driven in the most runs for the team to date, plating 9 runners. Jacob Lueneburg (.355/.439/.784 – that is AVG/OBP/OPS) and Taylor White (.320/.438/.878) have also had good seasons on offense thus far for the Cougars.

Houston’s pitching has been respectable on the year. Overall, they have posted a 2.25 ERA with 46 strikeouts and 25 walks in 72 innings. Senior Jared Ray was their Opening Day Starter – so you might expect him to pitch against the Vols. He has posted a 1.5 ERA with 10K’s and 6BB’s in 12 innings on the season. Drew Steckenrider has been the Vols’ Friday starter. As mentioned above, he has posted  an ERA of 1.29 with 6 strikeouts and 4 walks in 7 innings


Texas comes into the Classic at 3-5. Don’t get the wrong idea though, this might be the best 3-5 team in the country. They were swept by an 8-0 No. 2 Stanford team (who also swept Vanderbilt), they took 2 of 3 from Duke, as well as a single game from Houston Baptist, and their other loss came at the hands of a 6-2 UT Arlington team. They come into the Classic with team .195 average, .330 on-base, and .303 slugging.

Texas is led offensively by Sophomore outfielder Mark Payton. He sits at .333 AVG, .474 OBP, .533 SLG, and 1.007 OPS in 37 at bats. Tim Maitland (.316/.458/.826) and Jonathan Walsh (.278/.350/.628) have also done well in limited at bats for the Longhorns.

The Longhorn pitching staff has struggled a little, posting a 4.16 ERA with 59K’s and 26BB’s in 67 innings. Hoby Milner has started both Saturday games thus far for Texas so it is reasonable to expect the Vols may see him on Saturday. He has compiled a 4.09 ERA with 8 Strikeouts and 4 Walks in 11 innings on the season. Zach Godley has been Tennessee’s Saturday starter. He has posted a 0.90 ERA with 10K’s and 4BB’s in 10 innings.


Rice comes into the Classic with an 9-0 record, posting sweeps of 1-5 Florida International and 3-5 Dallas Baptist. They also picked up two wins against 7-3 New Mexico State, and one against 4-4 Houston. Offensively the Owls have put up a .293 AVG, .423 SLG, and .420 OBP on the season. That is the best line – .293/.420/.843 – the Vols will face this weekend.

Rice is led offensively by Senior utility player (Don’t get me wrong, he has started every game) Michael Fuda. He has posted a .417 AVG, .611 SLG, and .450 OBP  (1.061 OPS) in 39 at bats on the season. Shane Hoelscher (.367/.486/.853) and Jeremy Rathjen (.357/.500/1.071) have also had excellent seasons for the Owls. They have 5 starters batting over .300, but they also have two under .200 and one at .240.

The Owl pitching staff has posted a 2.36 ERA along with 91 Strikeouts and 31 walks in just 84 innings. Jordan Stephens has started both Sunday games for Rice. He has a 3.68 ERA with 5K’s and 5BB’s in 7.1 innings. Nick Blount has been Tennessee’s Sunday pitcher. He has compiled a 1.5 ERA with 3K’s and 2BB’s in 12 innings for the Vols.

What To Expect

I expect this team to go to Houston and compete. I think they could conceivably win all 3 games, although I don’t think that is likely. I also think it is entirely possible they could drop all 3, although I don’t think that is likely either. It seems to me Rice will be the best team the Vols will face this weekend, and this is basically a home game for the Owls, so I expect Tennessee to lose that game. However, I think the other two are very winnable games, even though they are basically home games for the Texas teams. I think fans should be happy with a 2-1 record in the Houston College Classic. With that being said, you shouldn’t jump ship if they come away 1-2 or 0-3. As I said before, this will be a good barometer as to how good this team really is. BUT this is by no means a be all end all series for the Volunteers. They could go 3-0 this weekend and still have a poor showing in the SEC, and they could go 0-3 and do well in the SEC. With all of that said, I think the Vols might open some eyes around the country this weekend. Coach Serrano has breathed life back into this program and I, for one, love it!

Houston – Friday 4:30 on

Texas – Saturday 4:30 on Longhorn Network

Rice – Sunday 7:00 on