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Monday, May 21, 2018

Baseball

Two Houstons to face off in second annual Sanders Cup


Junior Nolan Bond could receive his third start of the season in the midweek series against Sam Houston State. The Cougars have struggled to find stability in the Tuesday pitching slot this season. | Thomas Dwyer/The Cougar

In 1836, Sam Houston led Texas in declaring independence from Mexico and started a revolution. Houston’s name has inspired movies, television shows, books and, of course, the city where this publication and University lie.

Two schools inspired by the general will face off next week in a clash of two of the top teams in Texas college baseball.

Sam Houston State and the University of Houston will play in the second Don Sanders Cup, a contest born out of the two rising programs’ competitiveness and shared history.

Over the last four seasons, the two schools have been consistently strong while sitting near the top of their conferences for the first time in the programs’ histories. The competitiveness is apparent in their head-to-head records, as Sam Houston has a narrow 8-7 lead over Houston during head coach Todd Whitting’s tenure.

From 2011 through the 2016, the two teams played each other twice each year and split the series each time, except for in 2015, when the Cougars won both matchups.

The Bearkats got revenge last season by winning 5-4, 12-2 and 3-2 in a clean sweep of the inaugural Don Sanders Cup.

Common bond

Don Sanders is another man who connects the two schools.

Sanders, an alumnus of Sam Houston State, was appointed to the University of Houston System Board of Regents and served from November 1983 to August 1989.

Baseball has been one of Sanders’ greatest passions. He has owned many Texas teams, including the Houston Astros and Corpus Christi Hooks, and he helped found the Round Rock Express.

Sam Houston State named its baseball stadium after him in 2007 after he donated $1 million to the baseball program.

Due to Sanders’ contributions to the schools and the sport of baseball, the schools decided to name the series after him.

Shootout potential

The series’ first game will be at UH’s Schroeder Park on Tuesday, the next one at SHSU’s Don Sanders Stadium on Wednesday, and the third at a neutral site, the Constellation Field in Sugar Land, almost two weeks later, on May 1.

The first half of UH’s season has not been ideal. The team is going 19-12 in the first 31 games, while Sam Houston has a 24-7 record, which is much better than the Bearkats were doing at this point last season.

Sam Houston’s biggest strength this season has been its offense, which is averaging 6.6 runs per game.

The Bearkats have seven batters hitting over .300, and four different batters have hit five or more home runs so far this season, while the Cougars has only three hitters with batting averages over .300 and no one with five home runs.

But in the midweek games, which test the teams’ pitching depth, the Bearkats have only been slightly stronger, going 5-2 while the Cougars are 4-3.

The series between will likely come down to a shootout, but if the Cougar pitchers can play at their peak, they might just avoid getting eaten up by the Bearkats.

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