Coach sees improved offense in 2017 baseball season
After competing in the American Athletic Conference baseball championship game for the third consecutive year, the Cougars fell just short of making it to the NCAA Tournament last season.
That concluded a season where the Cougars were among the top teams in the nation in various pitching stats, but were near the bottom in many offensive categories. The team hit just .271 over the course of the season with 37 home runs, 14 of which came from a single player.
Since their heartbreaking loss to the University of Connecticut in the conference championship game, the Cougars have been hard at work to get back to their winning ways. The team’s annual Red-White World Series last week presented a great opportunity for new and returning players to earn the open spots on the roster.
The games served as the first chance for fans and coaches to see the team perform in game scenarios.
With five of the nine offensive slots and a few spots in the pitching rotation still vacant, head coach Todd Whitting and his staff want to see who is going to bring effort, energy and attitude to fill them.
“It gives us a game-like experience,” Junior outfielder Corey Julks said. “It’s always good to compete and have intrasquad scrimmages so you get game-like reps. Practice is one thing, but when you’re actually playing against somebody else you get more amped up for it, and that’s always good.”
Despite last season’s result, Whitting is returning a strong nucleus of players who are going to help lead the team. Experienced hitters like Julks, junior Connor Wong and sophomore Joe Davis should bring power and speed that will help junior pitcher Seth Romero and the pitching staff find wins easier.
Whitting viewed this training period as valuable time where veteran players instill a team mentality and culture about what they are trying to accomplish in younger players. The seventh-year Cougar head coach knew that, to earn championships, his players have to build relationships.
“I think this team has a little chip on its shoulder,” Whitting said. “Whereas last year we were ranked high in the preseason, (we) had a talented team that kind of got devastated by injuries. I think some of those returning players who have postseason experience were pretty upset and disappointed that we didn’t make the postseason.”
Whitting said that the way last year went gave his players a bit of a competitive edge entering the 2017 season.
Players like Julks are doing their best to get the younger players to see the game slower.
Knowing firsthand how drastic the change in speed and athleticism the game is played at the college level, Julks and others hope to get the young guys improve their focus and play at the best of their ability.
When all the dust settled, the Red team claimed the intrasquad title over the White squad two games to one. Whitting is impressed with what he saw as his team wrapped up their fall workouts.
The Cougars will now rest to prepare for the 2017 season, which is set to begin on Feb. 17.
“I think this (team) has a chance to be our most offensive team yet,” Whitting said. “I think we’ll still consistently pitch well like we have over the last five years. But I think from an offensive standpoint, we have the ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark more than we did last year. It’s a team that, offensively, I’m really excited about.”