Senior class gunning for Omaha in last outing
The Cougars baseball team has been a premier team in the American Athletic Conference for over five years, and this year’s senior class has been a part of the team’s greatest highlights.
The senior class has won league titles, Player of the Year awards and almost every other accolade possible, except for one thing: making it to Omaha and the College World Series.
The Cougars have had the talent to make it there, said head coach Todd Whitting, but it just hasn’t worked out due to a couple key outs here and a few whiffed swings there. The team has made it far into the playoffs but just has not had the killer edge at the finish line.
Setting a standard
With five conference titles in five years, the Cougars have expectations of making regionals every season.
“The expectation level has been raised over the last couple years. You can make that pressure, or you can make that pleasure,” Whitting said. “We take pleasure in the fact that big things are expected of us.”
After winning its first regular-season title in the American Athletic Conference in 2015, expectations were high for the Cougars.
The last three years have had its ups and downs, as the Cougars had a rough regular season in 2016 but managed to heat up near the end of the season to win the conference tournament.
The next season was a hallmark year. The Cougars won not just the 2017 tournament title but the regular-season title and hosted an NCAA Regional, an honor reserved for the top 16 teams of each year.
Pitchers dominated 2018 and lifted Houston to a regular-season title, though it fell short at the tournament and regionals.
Whitting praised the seniors and their leadership in the locker room for raising the team to its championships and said this year’s seniors have carried on the tradition.
Senior slugger Joe Davis said it was easy to lead this year’s newcomers due to their drive and competitiveness.
“They came in with their own expectations, and they all want to be great. There hasn’t had to be too much leadership involved with these guys,” Davis said.
Still, Whitting praised Davis and the other seniors for their contributions both on and off the field.
“(Davis) has been a leader of our offense along with some other guys. He’s not the only weapon in the lineup, but he has been Mr. Consistent,” Whitting said.
Davis has been a leader on the field since he arrived on campus. As a freshman, Davis won the AAC Rookie of the Year award and he became the all-time home run leader in UH history last season after a steady career.
This season, Davis said the team has no easy outs in its explosive offense and will challenge the pitcher at the plate at every at bat.
“This is the most complete offense that I’ve been a part of,” Davis said. “The energy, attitude and effort toward getting to Omaha is something special.”
Davis said it was nice to finish 2018 strong, but his expectations for himself have not changed heading into 2019.
“I feel pretty good about this year. I have my own expectations for myself. I feel comfortable and don’t really feel any added pressure this year,” Davis said.
Senior outfielder Grayson Padgett is another of UH’s best upperclassmen remaining from 2019, and he said being a Cougar has been more than just success on the field.
The team has allowed Padgett to play the game he loves and has been a source of strength and comfort in challenging times, like he had last March when his cousin Blain Padgett died.
Padgett wears his cousin’s initials on his cap and said, “I’ll have those initials with me for the rest of my life. He’s in my mind with everything I do.”
Although his cousin, who he said was more like a brother than cousin, is no longer on this Earth, Padgett said he has gained new connections and family he will never forget.
“It goes a lot further than baseball,” Padgett said. “Baseball is very important to me, but at the end of the day, the relationships I’ve made, the connections that I have and the family members that I’ve gained from the program are things that I’ll never take for granted.”