Cloudy Memorial Day doesn’t rain on Cougars’ NCAA parade
On a gloomy holiday in Houston, the Cougars still had reason to celebrate.
Though dark clouds and scattered showers ruined many outdoor Memorial Day plans, UH players, coaches and supporters were unfazed by the weather as they gathered inside Ragin Cajun to learn the team’s NCAA tournament fate.
The Cougars found out the trip to Ragin Cajun wouldn’t be their last taste of Louisiana.
After earning an American Athletic Conference tournament title on Sunday, UH (44-15) was awarded a No. 2 seed at the NCAA regional tournament hosted by LSU. For UH, the double-elimination tournament begins with a game against No. 3 seed Bryant at 7 p.m. on Friday.
“The expectation level in our program is to play in Omaha. The kids understand that and that’s what we put on ourselves,” said head coach Todd Whitting. “But if we don’t get out of the regional … it has been a tremendous season. It has been a long time since the University of Houston has had this kind of success in the sport of baseball and I’m just enjoying the ride.”
The UH players, who were sporting playoff beards of varying lengths and colors, have expected to hear their name called by the selection committee since the season began and the team adapted the slogan “Mission 64.”
After narrowly missing an at-large bid last season and returning every position player, the pieces fit together and created a tournament contender, said senior catcher Caleb Barker.
“This is a great group of guys. We’ve been together for a long time and this has been our goal since day one. So now that we’re in, our next goal is just to win the Baton Rouge regional,” Barker said.
Whitting, who earned a degree, played and served as an assistant coach at UH before returning as head coach, said it was a special to be able to rejuvenate the program. Becoming the head coach at UH gave him the opportunity to finish what he started.
“For us, it just felt like the job’s not done here. We’re going to get the place to Omaha,” Whitting said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play in Omaha — it’s truly a tremendous experience that I want our players and fans to experience.”
For the Cougars, it’s their first time reaching the NCAA tournament since 2008. But Barker doesn’t think future appearances will be an uncommon occurrence.
“I think we’re just laying the foundation for better things to come. I think this program, it’s definitely headed in the right direction. We’re just looking to play as long as we can this season,” Barker said.