Baseball: Noble looks to build solid Cougar lineup this season
UH baseball head coach Rayner Noble can’t pinpoint the exact reason for his squad reaching the NCAA tournament only once in the last four seasons, but he has an idea.
"I think we got into trouble from a recruiting standpoint because we started recruiting the masses and not really investing heavily in frontline guys," said Noble, who will lead the Cougars in their first full practice today. "When you do something like that, and you bring in 15 or 16 guys and they don’t pan out, it’s going to hurt you for two or three years."
The recruiting misses have taken their toll over the last four seasons. The Cougars’ only NCAA regional appearance during that stretch came in 2006, and they never came close on any other occasion.
However, Noble doesn’t expect the Cougars’ misfortunes to continue much longer, even though they were picked fifth in the Conference USA preseason coaches poll.
"I feel really good about the guys that are here," Noble said. "The young players and the guys that we signed in the early signing period are all marquee guys. I feel as good as I’ve ever felt about the direction that we’re headed."
Noble said the depth in the starting pitching should fair well for the Cougars. That wasn’t the case last season.
UH stumbled to a 28-28 finish last season, primarily because it lost junior right-handers Ricky Hargrove and Dereck Cloeren to shoulder injuries at the start of the season.
Redshirt sophomore left-hander Wes Musick (6-5, 3.00 ERA last season), sophomore left-hander Donnie Joseph, freshman left-hander Ty Stuckey, Hargrove and Cloeren are among those who will vie for spots in the rotation.
The bullpen isn’t quite as deep as Noble would like, but he expects big contributions from sophomore right-hander John Touchton, junior right-hander Chris Wright and senior right-hander/outfielder Bryan Tully.
Touchton is a prime candidate to be the team’s closer, a position that wasn’t a strongpoint last season.
"I would love to be a closer," Touchton said. "That’s a big role for the team. We need someone who can come in and shut the game down when we’re winning 2-1 or 1-0."
The rest of the lineup appears to be set. Junior Jimmy Cesario, last season’s C-USA Newcomer of the Year, will start the season at first base, junior Felix Fanaselle will take over at second, freshman Blake Kelso will handle shortstop and senior Ryan Lormand will move from second to third. Sophomores Austin Goolsby and Chris Wallace will battle for catching duties.
Tully, senior Jake Stewart and sophomore Zak Presley will start in the outfield. Stewart missed nearly all last season with a torn rotator cuff while Presley played in 55 games (50 starts) and batted .306 with 28 RBIs.