Keys for Houston to make it over hump and get to Omaha
For the fourth time in five years the Houston Cougars’ baseball team will go to a NCAA Regional. Houston will play Purdue in the first round of the Chapel Hill Regional and then will challenge either North Carolina or North Carolina A&T.
The three teams are some of the best that Houston has faced this season and it take Houston playing at their best, and maybe a little luck, to get to the College World Series in Omaha.
Keep it going
Head Coach Todd Whitting said getting to regionals is always an honor, but that the team needs to look deeper than that.
“Going to the NCAA tournament has become the standard, not just a goal. Our goal is to play in Omaha,” said Whitting.
Getting to Omaha has eluded Todd Whitting during his tenure at UH. In the team’s debut appearance under Whitting, Houston was a series away from Omaha, but fell in the Super Regional to Texas.
The trip to North Carolina will be the fourth consecutive week that Houston plays on the road, but Whitting was not concerned.
“I don’t think we’re road weary at all, this team has a great mindset,” said Whitting. “Our pitching staff is ready to go. It’s been almost a week since Fletcher and Cumbie has thrown. Our bullpen did get a little taxed toward the end of the week, but by Friday they’ll be fine and ready to go.”
But before Houston starts thinking about a fifth week of travel to Omaha, it needs to get a few things right to get past Chapel Hill.
Winning the first game against Purdue and avoiding an extra game will go a long way to saving Houston’s pitchers arms for later.
Last year, Houston lost in the first round of the Houston Regional against Iowa and were sent to the loser’s bracket. From there, Houston battled to the regional finals before losing to Texas A&M 4-3.
Houston repeated history in the AAC Tournament, losing its first game then fighting through the loser’s bracket before losing to East Carolina.
It was a costly loss that took a toll on the pitching staff and forced Houston to use outfielder Tyler Bielamowicz and a pair of redshirt freshmen as pitchers in their final game of the tournament.
Top relieving pitchers, senior Joey Pulido and sophomore Carter Henry, had to be used early on the weekend, leaving Houston scrapping the bottom of the depth charts for fresh arms.
“If we can win the [game] one and save some pitching and continue to roll through the tournament it would be great,” said Pulido.
Another way to help conserve pitches is for junior pitchers Trey Cumbie and Aaron Fletcher to throw long and well into their games during the tournament.
The two Houston aces average around six innings thrown per game, and if they can keep it up it would be a huge help for Houston.
By throwing deep into a game, Houston’s top relievers can be saved for long relief during the third and fourth games of the tournament when the quality of starting pitchers takes a bit of a dip.
At bat, Houston has the lowest team batting average and on-base percentage at the Chapel Hill Regional. But at the AAC tournament, things started to turn around for Houston.
Houston averaged 7.20 runs per game across five games during the tournament, almost two more than their season average of 5.48.
Junior Joe Davis hit seven home runs during the regular season, but exploded into the AAC tournament with three home runs to earn the UH career homerun record with 32 and lead the team.
Davis had a .444 batting average, 12 RBI and scored six runs during the AAC tournament and if his and the team’s run of form continues, Houston’s offense will be ready for the elite pitching of Purdue and North Carolina.
If Houston’s pitching stays strong and the bats stay hot, they will be heading back to the College World Series for the first time since 1967.