Baseball: Cougars defend against Tulane
The Cougars hold the top spot in Conference USA, but they’ll have to fight rival Tulane for the right to keep it.
The third-place Green Wave (23-9-1, 3-2-1 C-USA) heads to Cougar Field this weekend for a three-game series, starting with a televised game at 7:21 p.m. tonight.
Unfortunately for the Cougars (20-11, 5-1), Tulane will bring C-USA’s best pitching staff with them. The Green Wave leads the conference with a team earned run average of 3.44, which is better pitching than the Cougars faced in Wednesday’s 15-9 win over Texas State.
"(Tulane) is leading the league in pitching, and anytime you face a team with that good of pitching, you’ve got your work cut out for you," UH head coach Rayner Noble said.
"They also lead the league in team defense (Tulane has a .975 fielding percentage), so they’re probably not going to beat themselves. We’ve got to match their pitching and their defense and do what we can do offensively."
Sophomore left-hander Wes Musick (6-1, 2.72 ERA) will start for the Cougars in tonight’s game. Freshman left-hander Ty Stuckey (2-2, 5.11) and sophomore left-hander Donnie Joseph (0-1, 6.04) will start Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Tulane junior right-hander Shooter Hunt (5-0, 1.02) has been one of C-USA’s top pitchers over the last two seasons and will oppose Musick tonight. Sophomore left-hander Aaron Loup (2-2, 4.76) and junior right-hander Jonathan Garrett (2-1, 3.79) will start the next two games.
The Cougars might be somewhat outmatched on the mound, but they won’t have a problem holding their own at the plate with a hitting percentage of .308, compared to Tulane’s .290. They can also create havoc on the base paths, leading C-USA with 72 stolen bases in 86 tries.
UH, however, will have to manage without the bat of junior third baseman Jimmy Cesario for the third consecutive weekend. Cesario, who is batting .276 with a home run and 12 RBIs, sprained his right wrist in the Cougars’ 8-5 win over Rice on March 26 and has been sidelined ever since.
Cesario’s status still remains day-to-day and will remain so until Monday, when he’ll be re-evaluated. Senior infielder Bryan Pounds will continue to fill in for Cesario at third base, with freshman Matt Murphy being the primary substitute for Pounds at first base.
Junior right-hander Ricky Hargrove could make another appearance this weekend after making his season debut in Tuesday’s 13-6 loss to Texas A’M.
Hargrove, who missed all of last season and the first part of this one while recovering from a shoulder injury, still can’t reach 85 miles per hour with his fastball, and Noble said that Hargrove needs to gain more arm strength before he can be effective.
"It’s been quite some time since he’s been on the mound and throwing to live hitters in a game," Noble said. "It’s going to take him a little while just to get back to where he needs to be."