UH clashes with Bearkats
Two things stand out when one takes the time to divulge into the mind of a Cougars’ baseball player at this point in the season: climbing back to a .500 record, and staying in the hunt for a chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Both of those aspirations will be better explained when UH travels to Huntsville to take on Sam Houston State Bearkats at 6:30 p.m. today at Don Sanders Stadium.
After facing a daunting schedule to start the season, which included taking on four teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball top 25, the Cougars (15-19) have faced an uphill climb to .500. UH knows that any more major setbacks – such as losing to SHSU – would put a serious damper on its postseason hopes.
‘Right now we just have to worry about crawling back to .500,’ UH center fielder Zak Presley said. ‘If we can string together a good week (SHSU today before a weekend series with Memphis) we’ll be right where we want to be.’
The Cougars still haven’t forgotten the last time that they faced the Bearkats (20-13) March 10 at Cougar Field. UH’s bullpen imploded, blowing a 16-8 lead in the top of the eighth. Cougars pitchers surrendered 10 runs, all with no outs, en-route to an 18-16 come-from-behind victory for SHSU.
Since then, the pitching has undergone a dramatic transformation, as several arms have become more reliable, including junior reliever Donnie Joseph. He has been a true stopper out of the bullpen, leading the Cougars with four saves, but the most pleasant sight for Cougars’ head coach Rayner Noble has been Jared Ray.
The hard-throwing righty has come out of the bullpen to turn in dominant outings during the last three weeks, including throwing four no-hit innings in the first game of a doubleheader against Southern Miss on Saturday. Noble said he will return to the starting rotation when the Cougars face Memphis this weekend.
‘He’s pitching with a lot of confidence,’ Noble said. ‘He’s been working really hard lately, and when you do that, you deserve to pitch, so we’re going to start him in the Friday game.’
The Bearkats have won four of their last seven games, including taking two of three from Lamar last weekend. SHSU is hitting .320 as a team and is led by senior first baseman Nick Zaleski, who has five home runs and a team-leading 40 RBIs this season. He went 4-for-6 during the team’s March 10 meeting.
The Cougars will send freshman right-hander Mo Wiley (2-1), who is coming off a dominating performance last week against Texas A&M, to the mound for the fourth consecutive Tuesday. Wiley threw 5 1/3 innings, giving up only three hits and two walks while striking out six Aggies.
Bearkats right-hander Dallas Gallant will oppose him. Gallant is 1-3 with an 8.69 ERA this season and will make his first start since April 5, when he gave up six earned runs in six innings against McNeese State.
Presley is just one of many Cougars who are using the earlier meeting for today’s matchup.
‘That was a crazy game last time when they came (to Cougar Field),’ Presley said. ‘Trust me, we have not forgotten about that and we’re looking for a little revenge.’