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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Baseball

UH baseball looks to take the next step in 2023


After leading the AAC in runners caught stealing and UH baseball in batting average (.326) and hits (76), big things are expected from catcher Anthony Tulimero, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference team, in 2023. | James Mueller/The Cougar

After leading the AAC in runners caught stealing and UH baseball in batting average (.326) and hits (76), big things are expected from catcher Anthony Tulimero, who was named to the Preseason All-Conference team, in 2023. | James Mueller/The Cougar

Looking to win its sixth American Conference Championship and play in its first NCAA Regional tournament since 2018 before heading to the Big 12 Conference, the UH baseball team is oozing confidence ahead of its 2023 season debut.

“We might be predicted second (in the conference), but I think it’s our conference to lose this year,” said senior shortstop Ian McMilllan, one of seven returning starters for the Cougars.

The Cougars went 37-24 overall and 13-11 in-conference in 2022, going all the way to the conference championship game, losing 6-1 to first-place East Carolina. Hoping to build on that result is a team that head coach Todd Whitting said is likely the most well-equipped team he has ever had.

“We’ve got a lot of depth,” Whitting said. “This is probably the deepest team that I think I’ve ever had.”

Joining a team that finished second in the country in fielding percentage is a new-look pitching staff looking to ease some of the pressure off of what was also the second-best hitting team in The American.

According to Whitting, it’s the new blood in the bullpen that he says has the depth to make things easier for the starters, while also replacing the production from departed standout closer Ben Sears.

“I feel like we’ve got six legitimate relievers, where in a typical year you have two that you can kind of rely on,” Whitting said. “it takes a lot of pressure off those starters knowing that if they get us to the fourth, fifth, sixth inning they can just flip it over to the bullpen.”

McMillan, senior third baseman Zach Arnold and star junior catcher Anthony Tulimero were all selected to the AAC preseason all-conference team in December. And when it comes to the team’s leading hitter from 2022 in Tulimero, McMillan says that ‘Tuli’ is looking steady as ever early on.

“Tuli’s just Tuli,” McMillan said. “He’s always going to hit, he’s always going to be a good leader, (and) he’s always going to catch.”

Meanwhile, Arnold, who committed just one error in 56 games, is just happy to be back to full-health after struggling with a broken finger and leg towards the end of last year.

“Dealing with those (injuries) was tough last year but you power through it,” Arnold said. “This year I’m feeling great. I’m very grateful to be feeling this way and not having to deal with those same things last year.”

With the return of players like Arnold and Tulimero, as well as the addition of several veteran transfers, Whitting believes this year’s team has a level of maturity it hasn’t had in recent years.

“You can never be over-experienced,” Whitting said. “since Covid, there have been a lot of teams that were older than us, but now we have the 22, 23-year-olds in our lineup.”

Last year’s 37 victories was an 18-win improvement from the Cougars’ 2021 campaign. But even with that increase and the expected production from the returning players as well as the pitching staff, Whitting, entering his 13 the season UH’s coach, maintains that the team is only focused on this year and not last year’s success.

“We preach in this program, ‘The past is a mystery, the future is a mystery,'” Whitting said. “(The players) care about this year’s team and what we’re doing right now.”

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