Owls Soar Over the Cougars and Continue to Dominate Cross-Town Series

Categories: Baseball, Sports

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John Royal
Houston Cougar Ryan Still leaps high for an overthrown ball on a first inning Rice sacrifice bunt.
The Houston Cougars (11-11) grabbed the 1-0 lead from the Rice Owls (15-9) in the top of the first inning last night. The Owls scored two runs in the bottom of the first, and the game was at that point essentially over as the Owls went on to get a relatively easy 7-2 win. Then again, the Owls getting the win over the Cougars in a baseball game is becoming rather commonplace as the Owls have now won ten straight games over their cross-town rivals, dating back to the 2009 season.

"We just didn't play good tonight," Cougar head coach Todd Whitting said afterwards. "That's what I told the team just now. This was a night where we didn't show up and play good. For us to beat people, and it doesn't matter who it is, we have to show to play."

Whitting said that this is a week he's been waiting for since he was hired by the Coogs back last July. There was the game to Rice last night, there are three games this weekend against TCU, one of the country's best teams and the place where Whitting worked as an assistant for several seasons through last year, and then a rematch against Rice next week. But with the way the Cougars played last night, he may have to rethink that whole looking-forward-to thing.

"The mistake this team has made," he said, "is they show me at times they're pretty good. So my expectation level is very high because I know what they're capable of. Our pitching has to fall just right. We have to play great defense. We have to execute at home plate."

Things didn't fall just right for the Cougars last night. The defense was sloppy, the pitching from starter Chase Wellbrock and reliever Matt Creel was not sharp, and the team didn't execute when at bat, failing on bunt attempts and not working the count, especially on a night where Rice starter Taylor Wall was not sharp and labored to make it through three innings.

But that's how things go when a team begins to dominate a series, and the Owls are at that stage against the Cougars right now when they don't have to play close to perfect baseball to win games. And while Wall was definitely not sharp in his start for the depleted Owl pitching staff, he was able to hold the damage early in the game so that the Rice bullpen could pull off another strong game.

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John Royal
Rice's Keenan Cook reacts to being called out at home plate.

"I liked the pitching -- well, Wall wasn't real effective, but the other guys really threw well," Owls coach Wayne Graham said. "[Tyler] Spurlin I thought was impressive. [Tyler] Duffey was good, too. Everybody did well. We're hunting for more pitching because [starter Chase] McDowell went down [with a season-ending elbow injury requiring Tommy John surgery]. We've got some good arms out there."

This was the final game before conference play for the Owls, and it was pretty good tune-up. Anthony Rendon started at third base for the first time in a month, and while he wasn't required to make any deep throws or any spectacular plays, he did make several throws over to first and his shoulder seemed to be fine. And Graham hopes that outfielder Michael Fuda can return to the lineup this weekend, which would help out an outfield thinned by the losses of both centerfielder Jeremy Rathjen, who is out for the season with an ACL injury, and McDowell, who was playing in center in place of Rathjen on the days when he wasn't pitching.

"I do think we need Fuda back," Graham said. "But I think some guys are doing a better job of hitting, and the pitching has been real impressive for three weeks. We're still making a lot of mistakes, but we have enough skills to compete. Particularly pitching."

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John Royal
Houston's Caleb Ramsey scores in the first inning.

The Cougars don't begin conference play until next weekend, and unfortunately they're not in quite the same position as Rice. They don't have the pitching that Rice does, nor do they have the skilled position players. The team, as Whitting has said, has to play near perfect ball on a nightly basis to stay close

"It just depends on if we can continue to just keep getting better and better and better and better throughout the season," Whitting said of the team's conference chances.

But for one night, as it has been for two seasons, Rice was the superior team, and they appear to be well on the way to once again winning the Silver Glove series with the Cougars.

SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

The Cougars will be playing TCU in Fort Worth this weekend while Rice will be hosting conference foe UCF for three at Reckling Park. UH and Rice will meet again at Reckling Park on Tuesday night and then Rice will visit Sam Houston State on Wednesday night. The Cougars will start conference play at Tulane next weekend....Rice now leads the all-time series between the two teams 92-66 and has won the Silver Glove Series each season dating back to 2001.

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