Freshman closer helps avoid series sweep
For the Cougars, it pays to have a former starting pitcher as their closer.
With a possible three-game series sweep looming in Sunday’s series finale against Conference USA rival Alabama-Birmingham, the Cougars turned to freshman closer Chase Dempsay in the fourth inning to preserve a four-run lead.
Dempsay answered the call, holding UAB to only one hit in 4 1/3 innings and recording a career-high, tying six strikeouts in the Cougars’ 10-4 win at Young Memorial Field in Birmingham, Ala. The relief outing was a career-long for the right-hander, who began the season as a starter before moving to the bullpen after only eight games.
Dempsay flashed his dominant stuff to help the Cougars (25-14, 8-4 C-USA) avert a pressure-packed situation in the fourth. The Blazers (17-22, 3-9) loaded the bases against Cougars’ sophomore left-hander Donnie Joseph with one out, but Dempsay retired UAB junior catcher Allen Aubin on a sacrifice fly that scored a run and struck out junior designated hitter Austin Taylor to end the threat.
Dempsay (4-1) retired nine of the final 10 batters he faced before giving way to senior right-hander Bryan Tully with two outs in the top of the eighth. By Dempsay’s departure, the Cougars had built a comfortable 8-2 lead.
"He was just marvelous," UH head coach Rayner Noble said. "We brought him in with the bases loaded, kind of at a critical point early in the game, and he got us out of the jam with minimal damage and then went on and pretty much cruised through the rest of his stint. He was the MVP today, no doubt."
Dempsay’s mastery prevented the Cougars from suffering their second three-game series sweep this season and allowed them to maintain a grip on second place behind league frontrunner Rice (31-10, 13-2).
The Cougars’ offense backed Dempsay with five runs during the final five innings after scoring five in the fourth off UAB junior starter Kyle Roberson (4-4). Senior third baseman Bryan Pounds supplied a large portion of the offense, batting 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs.
Junior first baseman Jimmy Cesario and freshman right fielder Matt Murphy drove in two runs apiece, and senior left fielder Jake Stewart went 2-for-3 with three runs. Sophomore center fielder Zak Presley doubled in a run in the eighth to extend his hit streak to a career-best 12 games.
Stewart had the most prolific weekend at the plate of all the Cougars. Stewart, who began the weekend by tying a school record with three home runs in the Cougars’ 10-9 loss in Friday’s series opener, batted .636 (7-for-11) for the series with two doubles, three homers, six runs and six RBIs. With Friday’s three-homer outing, he became only the third player in school history to pull off the feat, joining Mark Grimes (1985) and J.P. Woodward (1999).
"Jake was good all weekend," Noble said. "He might be looking at C-USA Hitter of the Week (honors) there."
Stewart’s productive weekend at the plate and Dempsay’s dominant outing Sunday were the Cougars’ primary highlights against UAB, which outlasted the Cougars in the first two games.
The Blazers jumped out to an early three-run lead and held on for a 9-4 win Saturday. Cougars freshman starter Ty Stuckey (2-3) was roughed up for four runs on five hits in only 2 2/3 innings.
UAB jumped on Cougars sophomore ace Wes Musick (7-2) in Friday’s game, tagging him for seven runs (five earned) in seven innings.
"He was just a little tired," Noble said. "His velocity was down and he wasn’t very sharp."