Patience at the plate leads Cougars to comeback win
From his perch on the steps of the UH dugout, head coach Todd Whitting saw his team go from leading 1-0, down 3-2 to winning 5-3 and securing a series win.
“It’s huge for us from an overall standpoint, for our resume it’s huge, and more so for the psyche of our team. We really needed a win in a Conference series,” said Whitting after the win. “I’m really proud of them. They kept playing. We didn’t play well out of the gate, walked a few a guys and they got a few cheap runs, but we just kept plugging away.”
The USF (22-17, 8-7) bullpen, though competent through the first two games, developed an aversion to the strike zone late in the game.
UH (29-10, 6-6) trailed 3-2 in the eighth when redshirt senior Jacob Lueneburg came off the bench to lead off the inning by lining a 2-2 fastball into right field for a double. He was able to take third due to an error on the play. A routine ground out by senior right fielder Kyle Survance scored Lueneberg and tied the game.
“I never think about striking out,” said Lueneberg who missed all of last year with injuries.
With pinch hitting being one of the most specialized and dramatic roles in baseball, the senior proved that while sometimes a little mysterious, pinch hitting is a persistent art often based on observation.
“When USF brought in a new pitcher, he started throwing balls there in the eighth. We took advantage of that. You could tell in his warm up pitches that he didn’t have good command of his offspeed pitches, so we’re just gonna sit there and get ourselves a good pitch,” Lueneberg said. “We’re not going to be overanxious to do something with a pitch we can’t.”
When he heard Whitting call his name, Lueneberg said, a process started his head, one that sounds like something of robotic efficiency.
“I locked in,” said Lueneberg. “It was just, ‘Boom, I’m ready to go’ and you get yourself prepared and go out there and do your best.”
After tying the game, UH loaded the bases via sophomore second baseman Josh Vidales reaching on a throwing error and senior first baseman Casey Grayson and junior left fielder Michael Pyeatt reaching on walks. Senior Frankie Ratcliff, pinch-hitting, drew a walk followed by another earned by freshman third baseman Jordan Stading. USF’s case of eighth inning yips cost them their lead, the game and the series.
From the point of view of the fans, it may have looked like a bit of Cougar Field luck, but Whitting explained that there was more than a little gamesmanship behind the scenes.
“The way the bats are these days, every run, you have to cherish it,” said Whitting. “There’s strategy that goes on. We had the take going on both of those 3-1 counts to make them throw strikes. Sometimes you let the other team lose the game instead of beating them. USF couldn’t throw a strike.”
UH, as it has all year, was able to throw strikes. Sophomore lefty Jared West started the game and was relieved by senior lefty Tyler Ford, and held USF to only three runs before giving way to senior closer Chase Wellbrock, who got his third win of the season.
“Today was a huge game and it was a must win,” said Wellbrock, whose W in the box score was different than his normal save.
“The defense, like always, was outstanding. They played great. I don’t really look at what my outcome is as we’re ahead and in the win column.”