PREVIEW: No. 20 Cougars return to diamond poised for success
As the Cougars head toward the 2017 season with hopes of getting back to postseason success after a disappointing 2015 campaign, The Cougar’s staff preview how they think the season will go:
Senior staff writer Peter Scamardo:
For the last seven months, the Cougar baseball team has been waiting to wash a sour taste from their mouths.
Head coach Todd Whitting’s team clawed their way through the American Conference Tournament, needing to win to reach the postseason. The Cougars won their first three games, beating the top-seeded University of Tulane twice before losing to the University of Connecticut in the championship game.
There is every reason to believe that the 2017 season will be another competitive year for the Cougars. Coach Whitting’s teams have competed for or won the American Conference the last three seasons. His rivals seem to think this year will be no different as the Cougars have been picked to finish second in the conference.
Only four offensive starters remain from a year ago. Junior catcher Connor Wong, junior outfielder Corey Julks, junior infielder Connor Hollis and sophomore designated hitter Joe Davis will be looked at to steer the ship for the 21 newcomers on the roster.
Davis has a lot of momentum coming into the season. The freshman All-American and Conference Rookie of the Year was named the Conference Preseason Player of the Year.
After breaking the freshman record in home runs and RBIs, everyone expects Davis to continue his productive slugging and be a key reason behind a lot of the team’s wins.
Pitching is one place where the Cougars have no worries. Last year the rotation ranked No. 2 in the country in ERA.
Andrew Lantrip will be missed, but his absence should not hurt the team as junior lefthander Seth Romero was recently named the No. 1 college draft prospect in Texas and No. 10 overall. After leading the team in ERA the last two seasons, he is the clear ace on the rotation.
The return of senior John King and freshman All-Americans Mitch Ullom and Trey Cumbie will ensure that the Cougars once again have a solid pitching staff this season.
Overall, the Cougars have a talented roster, and given the veteran leadership, there is every reason to see them playing for the American crown come May.
Assistant sports editor J.D. Smith:
After a disappointing season in which they failed to reach the NCAA tournament, the No. 20 Cougars look to replicate the success sustained in 2015.
Retaining their top four hitters and a pitching staff that ranked second in the nation in ERA, the Cougars have all the pieces necessary to make a deep run in the College World Series.
“Along with a veteran leadership that features two Preseason All-Americans and two players ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100 College Draft Prospects List, the Cougars welcome 21 newcomers to the roster, including 15 freshmen.
“Romero returns as the staff ace, leading the team in ERA during his first two seasons. Ranked as the tenth best prospect in college and best in the state, Romero anchors a staff that finished 2016 at 36-23 with a 2.48 ERA and 475 strikeouts in 522 innings.
On the offensive side, Davis returns after posting one of the best freshman campaigns in school history. The Austin native set freshman records in home runs (14) and RBIs (58) while being named American Athletic Conference rookie of the year. He started in 58 out of 59 games.
Davis is joined by a lineup featuring the No. 88 prospect Wong and preseason all-AAC selection Julks.
“The Cougars’ schedule features 10 games against teams currently ranked in the top 25, including three games against cross-town rival Rice University. On top of 29 home games, the Cougars will play Sam Houston State University and Rice at Constellation Field in Sugar Land.
With the talent on the roster and such a strong schedule, the Cougars are primed to win the AAC and advance to the NCAA tournament.