Even in the twilight, Cougar baseball doesn’t quit
Trailing four to nothing and coming off a ruling that could charitably be called heartbreaking, or at least momentum-killing, the Cougars took the opportunity to pull off what they’ve been patenting all season — the comeback.
A flurry of hits eventually pushed four runs across home plate for UH, tying the game in the eighth. Having never led at any juncture up to that point, the cascade of runs in the eighth qualified as the jump start that is often part of a winning edge.
“Wow — what a game,” said UH head coach Todd Whitting. “You know that was two really good teams getting after each other wire-to-wire. I thought LSU played outstanding. I thought our team just played really, really good. We just didn’t give in. There was a point in that game where we kind of could have tucked our tails a little bit there and shut that thing down. But this time of year, you just have to keep playing.”
UH played two games within an hour of each other, the latter being its second time against LSU in two days, and will challenge LSU again in a rematch on Monday. By virtue of advancing, UH has earned the right to play in the regional championship game, though its odds of advancing seemed slight when LSU took UH’s run lead.
“We felt that it was lodged. We went through the protest process and got denied,” Whitting said. “Now looking back on that thing, that kind of jumpstarted us a little bit. We come right back and respond after that. It is what it is, and that thing ended up working in our favor.”
Senior catcher Caleb Barker, who tied the game, was able to keep his presence of mind about him to help UH get back into the game.
“When they made the pitching change to the left-handed pitcher (Zac Person), Casey Grayson was up to bat. I knew that he was going to try and get a sacrifice,” Barker said. “Grayson really put the ball in play and helped advance the runner. I knew that I had to stay short and compact with my swing. I was able to get down in the zone and send the ball up the middle.”
The pitches from the legion of UH hurlers who have kept opposing batters at bay for the majority of the tournament have one final hurdle this round: their rematch with the LSU team they have seen twice already. Senior closer Chase Wellbrock insisted the staff was still good to go.
“No game at this time of the year is easy. We knew that both teams wanted it just as bad. We were relentless, and we really want to win this,” Wellbrock said.
Whitting, who needs one more win from his brigade of mounds men, showed confidence when asked who would start the Monday game with its winner-take-all importance.
“We still got a lot down there. We have a few guys that can come back,” Whitting said. “We could throw ‘Johnny Wholestaff’ tomorrow. You know it might be one of those, but we still got some bullets in there. There are some guys that haven’t pitched yet that will get an opportunity. Like I said, we’ve got some guys we can recycle back through.”
With the starter not yet named, Whitting did not waver from the confidence he has vested in his squad.
“I’ve said that about this team all year that they never quit. They never quit,” Whitting said. “I don’t know what our record is, but however many games we’ve played there’s never been one time where I felt like this team has shut it down. When you have that characteristic, it can go a long way for you. I really appreciate it as a head coach.”