Baseball looking forward to test at Shriners Classic
The Cougars will face three tough teams this weekend at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Classic at Minute Maid Park, and the team is looking forward to the test.
The weekend will be a chance for Houston to gain reputation with high quality wins and to play for something more than baseball.
It is the 19th annual College Classic, but this is the fourth year the Shriners Hospitals for Children has sponsored the tournament.
“It’s been a great addition to the tournament,” said head coach Todd Whitting. “It’s added a lot of fanfare to it, and we’ve had the opportunity to have a few kids out and spend time with our ball club, which is always special. It’s an honor to play in it, and any time they invite us we’re happy to do it.”
Earlier in February, the Cougars welcomed Izaiah Regalado to a practice, and he spent the afternoon with the team.
It was the first time Regalado had ever swung a bat, and he called it a great experience. He said his favorite part was when he got to finally hit the ball.
“It’s an honor for us to have (Regalado) out here. I think it’s for our kids to have the opportunity to meet him. They think sometimes that college baseball is a grind, but they’re really fortunate to really play college baseball,” Whitting said in an interview with UH Athletics.
Hitting the field
While the occasion is special, Whitting knows the set of teams the Cougars will play will tell him a lot about the team and where it needs to improve.
“Our schedule early is a grind and it will prepare us for our league, which is a real big grind,” Whitting said. “We haven’t played good at Minute Maid the past couple years, so that is something we need to address.”
Houston will play TCU, Texas State and Texas A&M, but Rice and Baylor are also competing in the Classic.
It is a field of teams that Whitting said are full of talent at the College World Series level, and the team needs to play well.
“Somebody in that tournament will be in Omaha, and I plan on that being the Cougars,” Whitting said.
Scouting the course
The Cougars open the weekend at 3 p.m. Friday against the Horned Frogs, who have started the season 5-2.
Junior Nick Lodolo has started both of TCU’s previous Friday night games. Though both times ended up being losses, he has allowed just four runs in his 12 innings pitched.
TCU’s offense could not get going in the 2-0 and 4-1 losses, but overall the team has great hitters.
The Horned Frogs have six players batting over .300, and the team as a whole has hit .311.
TCU is led by redshirt junior infielder Jake Guenther, who has a .417 batting average and 12 RBIs and senior Johnny Rizer has bat .429, but only has three RBI and five runs.
The projected starter on the mound for the Cougars is junior Tyler Bielamowicz, who has been their Friday starter the two previous weekends.
Bielamowicz had a tough opening day but allowed No. 24 Arizona to score just one run in Houston’s 2-1 victory last Friday.
Things will not get easier on Saturday when Houston plays 5-2 Texas State.
The Bobcats have eight hitters hitting over .300, including junior Jaxon Williams, who has an outstanding .500 average from 24 at-bats.
Though just two of those hitters have only a handful of at-bats, the depth is clearly there for Texas State when it needs a pinch hitter. The team has hit .292 overall.
Redshirt sophomore Hunter McMahon has been Texas State’s second weekend starter the past two weekends, but he has given up nine runs in just 11 innings pitched, so he could be swapped out for another pitcher.
Houston will finish the weekend against Texas A&M Sunday at 3 p.m. in what looks to be the toughest test at the Classic.
Texas A&M won its first seven games of the season. The closest win game was by two runs, and the largest margin was a 19-6 trouncing.
The Aggies stumbled Sunday and were handed their first loss by the UIC Flames, but the team has been strong otherwise.
With a team batting average of just .234, the Aggies have been very efficient on scoring when they get on base and have sent home a little under 52 percent of men on base.
For comparison, Houston converts 36 percent, Texas State scores 52 percent and TCU makes 49 percent of hits or walks count.
Texas A&M’s Sunday pitcher has been freshman Jonathan Childress. Childress had thrown 9.2 innings across his first two showings with just three runs allowed, so he is likely to stick where he is in the rotation.
Houston could go with junior Lael Lockhart Jr., but he had an off afternoon against similar competition with Arizona Sunday, when he allowed seven runs.
But it is still early in the season, and the Cougars are not ones to make quick, reactionary changes, especially on the starter’s mound.
Both teams played in the NCAA Regionals last season and this final game of the weekend could be a preview of this year’s tournament.
The path to Omaha is not easy, and this weekend will have three tough opponents for the Cougars to measure themselves against.