Cougars face SEC trio at World Series park
Following a 4-3 walk off win against the Texas Southern Tigers on Tuesday night, the baseball team is preparing to make a short commute to Minute Maid Park this weekend.
The Cougars are one of six teams competing in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic. Alongside Sam Houston State and UL-Lafayette, the Cougars will represent the “local” teams as they play the Kentucky Wildcats, Mississippi State Bulldogs and Vanderbilt Commodores of the SEC.
Originating in 2001 as the Astros College Classic, the Cougars have the most appearances of any team, having competed in 16 of the 17 previous editions. The Rice Owls have the second-most appearances at 15.
Last season was the first time the Cougars did not participate.
The Classic should be a strong test to tell how the Cougars will fare this season. Being forced to play top ranked teams so early will give an insight into how they may fare throughout the year. For example, the team was swept in the 2016 edition, their most recent appearance, and the season reflected that result.
Their three opponents from the SEC all come into Houston ranked in the NCAA Top 25: the No. 7 Kentucky Wildcats, No. 12 Vanderbilt Commodores and No. 21 Mississippi State Bulldogs. Their records reflect their ranking as the three combine for a record of 19-6, with four of those losses going to the Bulldogs.
The best hitter the Cougars will face out of the three teams is Austin Martin of Vanderbilt. Martin currently has the second-best batting average in the country with 15 hits in 29 at bats for a .517 average. His teammates Pat DeMarco and Stephen Scott are also hitting above .400.
Outfielder Jake Mangum is the top hitter for the Bulldogs. With 12 hits in 28 at bats, Mangum is hitting .429 and has three stolen bases in three attempts.
The Wildcats do not have one hitter who is miles above the rest, but they have seven batters who are hitting above .300. That consistency is one of the main reasons they have that top 10 ranking. Among them, Kole Cottam is the most dangerous hitter. Nine games into the season and Cottom is hitting .364 with 12 hits, 10 RBIs and two home runs.
The Cougars start the College Classic against the Wildcats on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. at Minute Maid Park. The tournament will be broadcast live by AT&T Sportsnet Southwest.