Noble notches 500th victory

UH head coach Rayner Noble tried to act normal, but could barely contain his emotions after being doused with water and ice by a few of his all-too-excited players after Sunday’s 3-2, 10-inning victory over Kansas State.

The water cooler bath produced a dramatic scene, but one that was deserving of a coach who had just captured his 500th career win. Considering the win came with some dramatics, it was a fitting end for a performance that salvaged what had otherwise been a dismal opening weekend for the Cougars.

Riding the arm of closer Chase Dempsay and the clutch hitting of shortstop Blake Kelso and pinch hitter Matt Murphy, the Cougars rallied from a late deficit to take the series finale at Cougar Field and avoid a three-game sweep.

Kelso hit a solo home run to tie the game at 2 in the bottom of the ninth, and Murphy drove in center fielder Zak Presley from second base for the game-winning run with a two-out single through the right side in the 10th. Dempsay (1-0) held the Wildcats scoreless over the final 3 2/3 innings, allowing only three hits while striking out five batters.

It was a sharp turn of fortunes for the Cougars (1-2), who were outscored 25-4 during the first two games of the series.

‘It was a great team win today,’ said Noble, who improved to 500-359 in 14-plus seasons at UH. ‘We really hit the ball well early and kind of came up empty-handed, but you have to tip your hat to the job that our pitching staff did. For the most part, (starter Frank) Corolla was outstanding in a quality start.

‘And what can you say about the job Chase Dempsay did out in the bullpen? It just shows you that when you pitch and play some defense, there’s a possibility there, and that’s what happened today.’

The Cougars came up empty in the first two games mainly because they did not pitch well, play solid defense or prevent the Wildcats (2-1) from running freely on the bases. They gave up 19 hits, committed four errors and allowed five stolen bases in Friday’s 16-2 loss. UH struggled equally in Saturday’s 9-2 loss, surrendering 10 hits, 10 free passes (seven walks, three hit batters) and seven stolen bases.

The Cougar pitching staff turned things around Sunday, issuing only one walk and allowing only one stolen base. The Cougars also stranded 13 Kansas State base runners.

‘Our pitchers held runners on better,’ Kelso said. ‘They were quicker to the plate, and they didn’t set patterns on how many times they were (attempting to) pick off runners, so the runners were off balance.’

The Cougars struck first, taking a 1-0 lead when third baseman David Murphy drove in first baseman Chris Wallace with a double in the third inning. The lead wouldn’t last long with Kansas State tying the score on center fielder Dane Yelovich’s RBI-single in the fifth.

Third baseman Jason King gave the Wildcats a 2-1 lead with an RBI-double off reliever Chris Wright in the sixth. Kansas State threatened to tack on more runs, but Wright escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam by getting Mike Kindel to ground out to second base.

Kansas State reliever Thomas Rooke tried to close the door on the Cougars in the ninth, but Kelso caught up with an inside fastball and launched it over the left-field wall to knot the score at 2 with one out.

‘I was sitting on a changeup because that lefty (Rooke) threw me changeups when we faced them Saturday, (but) he threw me a fastball inside, and I just reacted to it and hit it solid,’ Kelso said. ‘It felt good.’

Dempsay ran into trouble in the top of the 10th when two batters reached on consecutive one-out singles, placing runners at first and third. But he escaped unscathed by throwing out Adam Muenster at home on an attempted squeeze bunt by Rob Vaughn and striking out Kindel.

Presley reached on a one-out single off reliever Evan Marshall (0-1) in the bottom frame and moved to second on David Murphy’s groundout. One out later, he rounded third on Matt Murphy’s single, beating a throw to the plate from Wildcats right fielder Jordan Cruz.

Presley’s slide allowed Noble to reflect on reaching a significant milestone.

‘I’ve been very blessed to do this, and I just praise God that I have an opportunity to possibly make an impact on human life,’ Noble said.

‘I like to win games like the next guy, but it’s about developing these players into young men who can be successful when they walk out the door.’

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