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Monday, September 25, 2023


Baseball: Cougars likely to rank well after season’s wins

It hasn’t been easy to label the Cougars with a single identity this season since the team has taken a diverse and multi-faceted approach to winning.

Junior infielder Jimmy Cesario, however, can sum up the Cougars in a nutshell.

"We’re a team that has to play hard-nosed and tough, make plays, stay strong defensively and kind of swing the bats, hit balls hard, run the bases and play small ball a little bit," he said. "But we still have guys that can hit the ball out of the park (so we) can have a big inning."

In other words, the Cougars (24-12, 7-2 Conference USA) are a little of everything.

The Cougars can hit well (.305 team-batting average), run the bases like maniacs (88 steals in 104 attempts), and play solid defense (44 errors, second-lowest in C-USA). Their five-man starting rotation has shown tremendous life over the last few games, and the bullpen continues to improve.

So far, it has all added up to wins. The Cougars, who knocked off Sam Houston State 9-6 on Wednesday, have won eight of their last 10 games and are in sole possession of second place in C-USA behind frontrunner Rice.

How much longer they’ll hold onto second place depends on the outcome of a three-game series at C-USA rival Alabama-Birmingham this weekend. The opener is slated for 7 p.m. today at Young Memorial Field in Birmingham, Ala.

Cesario thinks that the Cougars are ready for the challenge.

"As a team, we’re jelling really well," he said. "What you look for going into conference play every weekend is to have a good week and bring the best game we can each and every night."

The Cougars will send their ace pitcher, sophomore left-hander Wes Musick, to the mound for tonight’s game. Musick (7-1, 2.85) had a solid outing in a start against Tulane on April 11, allowing three runs on four hits with eight strikeouts in the Cougars’ 4-3 win.

He’ll have the fortune of facing C-USA’s worst team. UAB (15-21, 1-8) defeated Kennesaw State 11-4 on Wednesday to break a four-game losing streak.

The Blazers will probably start junior right-hander James Oliver in the series opener. Oliver is 2-2 with a 5.60 ERA in nine appearances (three starts). Unfortunately for UAB, its pitching staff has been atrocious this season. The Blazers’ 5.70 ERA is the highest in C-USA, which should play to the advantage of the Cougars, who continue to swing the bats well and create havoc on the bases.

"We are pretty aggressive on the base paths, especially with a bunch of the guys at the top of our lineup," Cesario said. "Whenever you hit the ball in the gap, you look to take extra bases, get from first to third and get into scoring position, and that’s what we did a lot (against Sam Houston State)."

The Cougars continue to defy a simple identity as a team, but whatever it is, it works.

"We’re doing just enough, and that’s really all it takes," UH head coach Rayner Noble said. "You know, one more run than the opposition. I don’t like it that way, but it’s better than the alternative."

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