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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Baseball

Cougars win 11 straight, tie longest streak since 2002


The Cougars have been dominant at home, outscoring opponents 111-43 at Schroeder Park this season.  | Courtesy of UH Athletics

Starting the season 8-5, including an inexcusable loss to Houston Baptist, was a far cry from where the Cougars foresaw the 2017 campaign going. With expectations of a conference title and trip to Omaha for the College World Series, they’d have to quickly turn around to reach their goals.

Since then, the Cougars have won 11 straight games, including wins over two top 10 teams and a three-game sweep of No. 27 UC Irvine. They haven’t lost since March 12, and they hold the nation’s second-longest active win streak, behind only No. 1 Oregon State’s 16 straight.

The 11-game win streak is the longest for the Cougars since 2002, when they finished 25-8 and hosted a regional.

Flamethrowers

Beginning with a 2-0 win over then-No. 10 Baylor, the streak has been a show of dominance for the Cougar pitching staff. Currently No. 4 in the nation with a 2.11 ERA, the quartet of junior Seth Romero, sophomore Mitch Ullom, senior John King and sophomore Trey Cumbie have been near unhittable over the streak with a 2.02 ERA, three complete games and 51 strikeouts.

“We knew coming into the season that we had a veteran starting rotation, and those guys have lived up to their billing,” said head coach Todd Whitting in an interview with the Houston Chronicle.

Top prospect Romero is 1-0 with 17 strikeouts during the streak. The left-hander is currently No. 2 in the NCAA in strikeouts per nine innings and No. 4 in total strikeouts.

King has been a true workhorse, leading the Cougars with 39 innings pitched. Since starting the streak with a complete game strike out over the Bears, he has gone the distance twice, giving up seven total runs. The Missouri City native is currently second among Cougar starters with a 2.08 ERA, and opposing batters are hitting just .217 off him.

With the weekend starters expected to be dominant, the emergence of Cumbie has brought sustainability to the steak. Over his last three starts, the Lufkin native is 3-0 with a 0.81 ERA and 14 strikeouts, including a complete game shutout over then-No. 10 Louisiana.

Starting just five games last season, Cumbie pitched his best at the end of the year, finishing at 5-2 with a 1.29 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 15 appearances.

“At the end of the year, I thought he was out best guy last year,” Whitting said. “He’s a weekend-type guy for anybody in the country. We’re just fortunate enough to throw him on Tuesdays. Hopefully he can just keep rolling on Tuesday.”

Waking the bats

Despite scoring only 65 runs in the previous 13 games, the Cougar offense has come alive during the streak, scoring 85 runs and eclipsing 10 runs in three games. The offense has been especially potent at home, where they are outscoring opponents 111-43.

“I knew we were talented on offense,” Whitting said. “We had our best four hitters back and the young guys are coming along and doing their part.”

In addition to returning stars, the offense has been infused by the emergence of junior college transfer Jake Scheiner. After getting off to a slow start to the season, the junior shortstop has been on fire during the streak, hitting .522 with seven home runs, 21 RBIs and reaching base safely in 14 straight games.

Since transferring from Santa Rosa Junior College in California, Scheiner has made his presence known, leading the Cougars with nine home runs and 31 RBIs while hitting .436 this season. His nine home runs count  more than the rest of the team combined. In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Scheiner talked about his approach at the plate.

“When I get the right pitch, I will take a good swing on it, and most of the time the results are a hard hit ball, hopefully over the fence,” Scheiner said. “Every at-bat I’m just looking for another opportunity to hit a ball hard. I don’t care where it goes.”

Aim for 15

As the Cougars head into their first American conference series of the season this weekend, the task of extending the streak further will be challenging one. First is a three-game matchup at UCF.

The Knights enter the series at 20-6, second place in the AAC, and have outscored opponents in their two-game win streak 25-1. They feature one of the top offenses in the NCAA, ranking No. 29 and leading the AAC with 188 runs scored.

If the Cougars are able to leave Orlando unscathed, all that will be standing between them and 15 straight is long-time rival Rice. Although this is a down year for the Owls at 8-19, they always play the Cougars tough as the teams fight for the Silver Glove.

For the Cougars, however, the sky’s the limit as they continue on their trek to a conference title and trip to the College World Series.

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