As much as things change for the Cougars, be it coaches or players, one constant remains: their annual battles with in-town rival Rice just don’t go their way. At least, they haven’t for nearly two years now.
Wednesday’s game followed suit, as the Cougars dropped the opener of the Silver Glove Series 7-2 to the Owls in front of 3,220 fans at Reckling Park. It was the second straight loss overall for UH, and 10th straight loss to Rice, dating back to May 2009 in the series, which now stands at 92-66 all time in the Owls’ favor.
For first-year Cougars head coach Todd Whitting — who helped guide UH to its last Silver Glove Series win as an assistant in 2002 — Wednesday’s loss came down to a lack of execution.
“We just didn’t play good tonight, we didn’t show up,” Whitting said. “Our room for error is very small; when we don’t do the little things right, we won’t win games.
“The mistake this team has made is they’ve shown me at times they’re pretty good. Pitching has to fall just right, we have to play great defense, we have to execute at home plate.”
Things at the plate started out well for the Cougars (11-11), who were staked to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when Matt Creel singled home Caleb Ramsey from second base with two outs. M.P. Cokinos followed by working a full count on Rice starter Taylor Wall (1-0), but was caught looking at an inside fastball to end the Cougars’ threat.
The UH lead was short-lived, as Rice (15-9) answered with two runs in the bottom of the first. Cougars starter Chase Wellbrock (1-1) gave up back-to-back singles to start the frame, and catcher John Cannon botched a sacrifice bunt to give Rice its first run and put runners at the corners with no outs. Preseason All-American Michael Rendon followed with a double play, plating another run, and Wellbrock escaped further damage by getting Shane Hoelscher to fly out two batters later.
Rice struck again in the third, as Wellbrock was tagged for another pair of runs, prompting Whitting to turn to reliever Jordan Mannisto with the bases loaded and one out. Mannisto responded by getting a double-play ball to end the frame and keep the Owls at bay over the next three innings, until a blister on his pitching hand forced him out.
The Owls tacked on three more runs in the frame, with the majority of damage being charged to Creel, who failed to record an out before returning to his DH duties — giving way to Travis Jenkins. Jenkins worked around a bunt single, allowing just a bases-loaded RBI sacrifice-fly to end the Owls scoring.
Despite the loss, Whitting said he was pleased with the team’s approach early in the game weekend’s series against TCU.
“I thought early in the game we were waiting on our pitch,” he said. “And about the halfway point of the game we started swinging at their pitch and we started getting ourselves out, instead of them getting us out.”
The Cougars head to Fort Worth for their next series against TCU. The first game is at 6:30 p.m. Friday.