Houston, Bryant face off in Baton Rouge regional _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Houston coach Todd Whitting, center, and his team prepare to start practiceThursday at Alex Box Stadium.

Four teams will be playing in the Baton Rouge regional of the NCAA tournament that begins Friday.

One, tournament host LSU, is a perennial powerhouse. ... Another, Southeastern Louisiana, is located just 45 miles to the east. ... And a third, the University of Houston, had a good-enough résumé to perhaps have hosted a regional of its own.

And then there is Bryant University, the relative unknown to the folks who will be making their way to Alex Box Stadium.

For those wondering, the school is located in Rhode Island, but junior Carl Anderson understands if perhaps you didn’t know that.

“Coming out of high school when I was getting recruited, I hadn’t heard of Bryant either,” said Anderson. “And I’m from the Northeast. But over the past couple years we have really made a name for ourselves. We have beaten schools like Boston College and UConn, so we have done a good job in the Northeast getting our names out there.”

Bryant (42-14) plays Houston (44-15) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the regional, looking to continue to make a name for the program.

Bulldogs coach Steve Owens almost laughs at the notion that people aren’t aware of Bryant’s baseball success.

“I think, if you ask around a little bit, people are aware that we are pretty good,” Owens said. “We have won 97 games in two years. To get a three seed from the small Northeast Conference is some respect form the NCAA committee. Our guys play in good summer leagues with players from the SEC and the ACC schools, and they know everybody puts their shoes on the same way.”

The Bulldogs, a No. 3 seed, are making their second straight regional appearance after repeating as champions of the Northeast Conference tournament. Last season, they played in the Manhattan (Kansas) regional and upset Arkansas in the first round before losing their next two games.

“Last year gave us a lot of experience,” said junior pitcher Kevin McAvory, who is schedule to start the opening game.

Houston comes in having won the American Athletic Conference tournament with a 10-4 victory in the title game.

“We thought when we beat Louisville that that game was going to be for the last host site,” said Houston coach Todd Whitting. “It didn’t work out for us, but we are excited to be in Baton Rouge. If we didn’t host, this is where I wanted to come, because it is such a great college baseball environment.”

Whitting isn’t concerned about his team perhaps looking past Bryant for a possible matchup with top-seed LSU.

“We’re not playing a quote unquote famous team, but we are playing a really good team,” said Whitting. “… If you look at (Bryant) on paper, they look like the best team we’ve played all year. They are hitting over .300 and they are pitching under 3.00 (ERA) and they have stolen almost 100 bases. And they catch and throw really well. They are as good of a 3 seed as there is out there. We can’t look past anything. We have to be ready to roll.”

Whitting had yet to name his starting pitcher late Thursday evening. It will likely be either Jake Lamoine or Aaron Garza, the tow big arms on the staff that has the fourth best ERA (2.20) in all of college baseball.

Owens says regardless of who Houston starts on the mound, it will be up to his Bryant team to play a sharp game defensively.

“A big priority for us is to take care of the baseball and only provide three outs for the other team,” Owens said. “We have emphasized that, and we think the pitching and hitting will take care of itself.”

Eight of the nine batters in Bryant’s lineup are hitting above .300, led by A.J. Zarozny and Cole Fabio. Zarozny missed seven weeks with an injury, but is batting .410 since his return.

Houston is led by first baseman Casey Grayson, who leads the Cougars in average (.335), hits (73) and RBIs (48).

“I don’t know a lot about them,” Grayson said. “But I have seen their record and some stats. They are going to be a good ballclub like everybody else is going to be this time of year.”