UH adjusts to schedule switch

The NCAA’s decision to push the start of the 2008 baseball season back two weeks probably remains widely unpopular with teams across the nation, but UH players and coaches have somewhat adapted as they start their second year under this schedule.

Under the change, Division I teams were not allowed to begin preseason practice until Feb. 1 and cannot start playing until Feb. 20. The change in dates was designed to help teams from cold-weather climates, but it meant teams had to squeeze up to 56 regular-season games into 12 weeks instead of the customary 14.

Teams had to adjust by playing as many as two midweek games in addition to three-game series on the weekends. This put even more stress on pitching staffs, not to mention the potentially damaging effects such a schedule could have on players’ academic careers.

UH eliminated two midweek games from this season’s schedule by playing two scrimmages in the fall, leaving it with 54 regular-season games.

Head coach Rayner Noble still doesn’t like the NCAA’s decision, but he and his staff have a better idea on how to adjust to the change.

‘Having been through it one time, you can plan a lot better, understand the mechanics of it and (figure out) how much pitching you really need,’ Noble said. ‘We eliminated two of those games in the fall, and that’ll help us out during the midweek stuff.’

Noble said there has been some talk of the NCAA moving the start of the College World Series back a week to provide teams with more breathing room, but ‘so far, nothing’s really come about it.’

The players themselves were a little caught off guard by last season’s rigorous schedule.

‘I didn’t know what I was in for,’ sophomore shortstop Blake Kelso said. ‘I had played two games a week in high school, which is nothing, especially when you’re playing only seven innings whereas you’re playing nine in college, and the speed of the game is a lot faster.

‘But at the same time, it’s really fun playing five games a week because I love playing baseball. It’s tough, but you just have to keep up with your workouts and eat right, and you’ll make it through.’

Junior left-hander Wes Musick said most of the players, with the possible exception of a few seniors, had their class loads reduced to 12 hours in an effort to keep them on track academically.

‘With practice, games and everything else, I think 12 hours is plenty,’ Musick said.

‘It’s really tough. You just have to make a schedule, stick to your plan and just really be on top of things.’

Fortunately for the Cougars, eight of their 15 midweek games will be played in Houston, including two Wednesday meetings with crosstown rival Rice (one home, one away). The farthest they’ll have to travel for a midweek game is to Lafayette, La. (approximately 222 miles east of Houston) for a contest with Louisiana-Lafayette on March 3.

Still, this doesn’t make handling the compressed schedule too much easier.

‘Fifty-six games is just a tough deal with a condensed season like that,’ Noble said. ‘You’ve got to stay healthy on the mound in order to win games, and the bottom line is beating the quality opponents you play on Tuesday and Wednesday.’

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