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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Baseball

For Cougars, winning formula well intact


pitcher

It’ll be significant for the Cougars to post a strong pitching performance if they want to reach their 20th win of the season. They shutout the Owls 3-0 in the first meeting.| File photo/ The Daily Cougar

UH’s weekend sweep against College of Charleston over the weekend was a slightly encapsulated version of the things that teams normally associated with winning tend to do on a consistent basis.

Now 19-4 with four sweeps on the season, UH seems to have fallen into somewhat of a groove, even if it sometimes hasn’t been through the smoothest of paths.

Going by scores of 8-3, 3-2 and 7-1, UH preserved its No. 21 ranking while fending off what head coach Todd Whitting called one of the most aggressive swinging teams in the country. Beyond that, the end result was exactly what he had in mind.

“Any time you can sweep a team that’s the caliber of the College of Charleston, that’s a big weekend,” Whitting said. “If we’re going to win the American Athletic Conference, (which starts) next weekend, then we have to be (able) to sweep. You can’t win the league unless you learn to sweep.”

A big factor in the sweep, as well as the season so far, was the work of the pitchers, who held Charleston to only six runs across 27 innings. Each game featured something unique as far as pitching performances went. Junior right-hander Aaron Garza’s complete game win Friday was followed Saturday by sophomore right-hander Jake Lemoine’s one-hit performance through five innings, and in the series finale, sophomore right-hander Jared West set a personal record with 11 strikeouts.

“You can’t get intimidated by that kind of stuff,” said West of the intimidating reputation of Charleston’s swing-happy batters. “You have to work the zone and let them, the ball and the defense do the work.”

The importance of each player’s contribution was that each starter lasted at least five innings, sparring any precarious dipping into a bullpen that was in need of rest coming off two midweek games.

“It was big,” said Whitting of the starter’s stamina through the series. “That was the biggest concern I had — that our offense kind of fouled up our bullpen going into the weekend, but we were able to score some runs this weekend and not have to go too deep into the (bullpen). That was a huge advantage for us.”

UH batters were anchored by performances like redshirt senior Casey Grayson’s on Saturday, which consisted of two RBI doubles, and sophomore infielder Josh Vidales’, who drove in the go-ahead run in the Sunday finale. Vidales, who credits his elevated baseball socks for breaking his mini-batting slump, points out that the team’s mental and gamesmanship approach to batting with two strikes has helped immensely.

“I think our approach at the plate with two strikes lately has been a lot better than what it was earlier in the season,” Vidales said. “From (the batter’s) standpoint, if we get runners in scoring position, we just want to be straight to the ball, try to hit it hard somewhere and hopefully find a hole.”

The momentum was well-timed, since UH will host cross-town rival Rice in what is perhaps UH’s best shot to win the Silver Glove in front of the home crowd.

“We have no problem with confidence,” said Vidales of the upcoming match with the Owls. “Being one-up against Rice, we’ll go into this midweek game with enthusiasm about getting ready to go and win the Silver Glove series. I think if we keep doing what we’re doing now, there should be no problem coming out with a W.”

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