Cougars and Owls: Hey, What Do You Know? At Least Some Houston Teams Can Win Baseball Games
The expectations for the Houston Cougars baseball team are almost nonexistent. Hustle. Stay competitive. Aim toward being better next season. The expectations for the Rice Owls are high. Win Conference USA yet again. Get to Omaha and win the College World Series.
John Royal Houston's Caleb Ramsey knocks a first-inning two-run triple on Friday night
Both teams opened their respective seasons this weekend. The Cougars, under brand-new head coach Todd Whitting, facing the UT-Arlington Mavericks in a three-game series at Cougar Field and the Owls under collegiate legend Wayne Graham facing the Stanford Cardinal, one of college baseball's premier programs, in a three-game series at Reckling Park.
The Cougars got their season off to a great start, accomplishing a feat they haven't pulled off since 1993, winning the first three games of the season. And not only did they sweep UT-Arlington, they did so in a convincing fashion, winning 15-5 on Friday, 9-0 on Saturday, and 6-4 yesterday afternoon.
"It's an awesome feeling anytime you win a game," said Whitting Friday night after getting his first-ever win as head coach. "The really exciting thing about tonight -- two things: number one, tremendous crowd. I thought our crowd stayed in it even though the score got a little bit out of hand. They stayed in it the entire time, and I really appreciate everybody that came out. And number two, our players really executed -- I talked to them before the game about trusting what we've put in, and what we've done from day one. It's really easy when you get in the heat of the battle to revert back to your comfort level."
Friday and Saturday's starters, Codey Morehouse and Jordan Lewis, both made their first career Division One starts, and both threw seven innings of outstanding baseball. Morehouse admitted to feeling some nerves before his start, but after the Cougars scored five first-inning runs on Friday, he just settled down and pitched.
"The first inning, I was pretty nervous, but once I got in the dugout, and we started to get the lead, everything just calmed down and I just went about everything like it was intra-squad, basically," Morehouse said. "Just went out. I trusted all of my stuff. I just knew I was going to throw strikes whenever I went out there."
The Owls' season did not get off to as good a start as the Cougars' as they lost two of three games to the Cardinal. Rice's starting pitching staked the team to a lead on Friday night, but defensive and bullpen letdowns late in the game led to the 5-3 loss. Junior Matthew Reckling took the hill for the Owls on Saturday, and while admittedly not having his best stuff, he shut down Stanford for six innings as the Owls got the 7-1 win.
"I just really wanted to go at these guys," Reckling said. "I don't think like I had my best stuff, but I just pitched. That's what it's going to take to be a great team this year. Those guys behind me played awesome."
John Royal Rice's Matthew Reckling delivering a pitch in the first inning on Saturday
The Owls had their second straight quality starting performance on Sunday as freshman Austin Kubitza held Stanford to only two earned runs in six innings, but that wasn't good enough as the Owls offense failed to get hits with men on base in the early innings on their way to the 6-2 loss.
But Owls head coach Wayne Graham wasn't discouraged by what he saw. He really liked his starting pitching, which, lacking in experience, was seen by some to be a weakness heading into the season, and the defense performed better than expected. And while his offense didn't perform, especially Anthony Rendon, Jeremy Rathjen and Michael Ratterree, he expects them to start hitting as the season progresses, and noted the strength of the Stanford staff.
"They're a top 10 team....nobody can match their arms," Graham said. "Texas can't match those arms. They can have three guys maybe match the five guys that Stanford's got that can throw 95 or more."
It's just one weekend of a season that still has over three months to go. And while it's surprising that the Cougars are undefeated to start the season, it's not surprising that the Owls are 1-2. The Owls make an effort to play a difficult schedule -- they've got USC next weekend, then will be facing top programs at the Minute Maid Classic the first weekend of March before heading out to California for another weekend of tough baseball to follow that. The Cougar schedule is not quite as challenging, but then again, the Cougars are trying to turn around and rebuild a once-great program, so getting a winning attitude is more important than playing the likes of Stanford.
"It's a new energy in the dugout and on the field," Cougar outfielder Caleb Ramsey said. "We talk about it a lot. We set the tone on defense, most part. Making a play, you notice people sprinting back to their positions. It just kind of sets a tone."
The Cougars' new tone has them undefeated. The Owls' tone has them setting up shop for another year of high-caliber baseball. The season might just be starting, but it's a season that both schools can so far feel good about.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: Rice hosts Lamar tomorrow night while Houston hosts Stephen F. Austin. The Cougars are off Tuesday while Rice travels to Texas State. Houston will have a three-game series against Ole Miss at Cougar Field starting on Friday evening while Rice will host Southern Cal for three at Reckling Park....Along with a new coach and a new attitude, the Cougars busted out some new uniforms on Friday night, and the bright white uniforms with red lettering and numbers were a welcome departure from some of the abominations the Cougars have trotted out the past several seasons....Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon received the Dick Howser Trophy on Saturday. This trophy is awarded annually to college baseball's national player of the year.