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Saturday, May 27, 2017

Baseball

Q&A: Whitting has high expectations heading into seventh season


Head baseball coach Todd Whitting has led the Cougars to two conference titles and three playoff appearances since 2010. | File Photo/The Cougar

As the preseason winds down, the No. 20 Cougars are looking to get back to the postseason after missing it in 2016.

With a talented roster, the Cougars are ready to make that next step and play in the College World Series in Omaha.

The team opens the 2017 season with Fan Appreciation Day and the alumni game Saturday with gates opening at 10 a.m. and start the regular season next Friday against Wake Forest at 6:30 p.m.

The Cougar sat down with head coach Todd Whitting to talk about what he expects of the team this season.

The Cougar: What are your expectations for the team heading into the season?

Todd Whitting: The culture in our program is to win one game at a time and go 1-0 every time we play, but the expectation level is to compete on a national level and go to Omaha at the end of the year. There’s a lot of steps that have to happen until we are in that position—just to go out and win as many games as we can, put ourselves to be an at-large team in the NCAA tournament.

TC: Last season, the pitching staff ranked No. 2 in the NCAA in ERA. Are you still leaning on them as the strength of the team?

TW: I think we have a chance to be a really good pitching staff. We’ve got three of our top five guys back from last year, obviously holes to fill with (Andrew) Lantrip and (Nick) Hernandez being gone, but I feel good about our new players. The guys that are back are a year older so I fully expect us to compete every year as one of the best pitching staffs in the country.

TC: With three games each against Cal State Fullerton, Rice and East Carolina, how does having a tough schedule help the team prepare and achieve their goals?

TW: It helps you achieve your goals and maintain your standard if you can win them. We’ve got a lot of games until we get to that point, but I think it’s exciting to play good competition. I think we’ve put together one of the best schedules we’ve had here in seven years at Houston. It’ll be a good test for a team that has a lot of new guys on it.

TC: With nine of the first 12 games at home, how important is it to get a quick start out of the gate?

TW: It’s always important to play at home and play well. When you play well at home, it sets you up for things that may or may not happen on the road, but I like to think we’re a pretty balanced team and when we go on the road it’s not going to affect our mentality or our ability to win games. It is good to be in the comfort of your own home and get off to a bunch of wins early.

TC: After an impressive freshman campaign, what are you looking at designated hitter Joe Davis to improve at this season?

TW: The past is history and right now he is batting .000 going into the season. He’s prepared himself mentally better than he did last season, his physical training has been good. He’s been nicked up with a few injuries here and there, but he’s 100 percent healthy and I expect him to be a leader on our team.

TC: Who are you expecting to step up on the offense this season?

TW: My other guys need to lead the way for some of these newcomers. Wong, Julks, Hollis, Davis, those guys all need to set the bar and the standard for what we’re going to be offensively and get the other ones on board with it.

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