UH hopes to breed a contender
After the Cougars’ accomplishments last season, a lot of buzz surrounds the team. They ranked in the top 25, won 36 games — the most since 2008 — and had the third-best turnaround in the nation.
UH tied for second with USF and Connecticut in the 2014 Preseason American Athletic Conference Baseball Coaches’ Poll and received a first-place vote. Head coach Todd Whitting said his expectations for his ball club this season are high as always.
“We want to put ourselves in a position to be an at-large team in the NCAA tournament,” Whitting said. “Hopefully once we do that, we can advance in the tournament.”
For the first time since he became head coach in 2011, Whitting has experience returning, and he wasn’t shy talking about the importance of that.
“Experience is invaluable. This is the first year in our program where we have more returners than newcomers. It’s nice to go out and see familiar faces every day. We have great core returners, and we return every position player starter from last year’s team. The expectation level for this team is really high.”
Along with the starters returning, the Cougars will get an added bonus with the return of seniors Casey Grayson and Jacob Lueneburg. Both power-hitting lefties were sidelined last year due to injuries.
Among those returning is All-American Justin Montemayor, who has made the transition from playing first base to taking ownership of third. Montemayor said the transition has been smooth because he has experience at the hot corner.
“The transition going back to third has been good. I played third in high school, so I’ve had experience, and I played there a lot over there this summer, so it’s been good.”
Even though consistency seems to be the theme of this offseason for UH, there is one major change to the program. Cougar Field received a full makeover this winter. What was originally a grass surface has now been replaced with FieldTurf. The only dirt that remains is on the pitcher’s mound. The dirt cutouts around the bases are now red turf, and there are two logos on the field: one with the UH emblem in center field, the other with the word “Cougars” written behind home plate. Senior catcher Caleb Barker said the new look gives the Cougars a home field advantage.
“We’re really excited to play on the new FieldTurf. We plan on playing pretty fast and offensive. We believe it will play a huge role in creating a home field advantage.”
The Cougars will open their season on their new and improved turf on Feb. 14.