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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Sports

Cougars hope to buck Broncos


With three consecutive wins and six in their last eight games, the Cougars have shown significant signs their first-half slump is a thing of the past.

However, they realize one poor series can bring these problems back to the forefront.

Fortunately for the Cougars (10-17), the signs of progress have been encouraging. Their pitching staff has a 3.82 ERA during the last eight games, considerably lower than their cumulative 6.41 ERA. The offense wasn’t spectacular during that stretch, but usually produced in the clutch.

Things could get even better for UH this weekend, as it prepares to face one of its weakest opponents. The Cougars will host Texas-Pan American (5-24) at 6:30 p.m. today in the opener of a three-game series at Cougar Field.

As was the case with previous series, the Cougars are viewing this one as the most important of the season. It doesn’t matter that UTPA has dropped seven consecutive decisions and 13 of its last 15.

‘We’ve gotten ourselves behind the eight ball, and it’s kind of an uphill climb to get ourselves back into position for an at-large bid (to the NCAA Tournament) or just to win the Conference USA Championship,’ UH head coach Rayner Noble said. ‘I like the direction that we’re going right now, but we can’t lose any momentum this weekend against Pan Am.

‘Their record is not good, but they put up some runs. We can’t think that we’ve got an inferior opponent. We’ve got to really attack them all weekend.’

The Cougars, however, will use a different plan of attack in today’s game.

Left-hander Wes Musick (1-5, 7.80 ERA) usually starts on Friday, but right-hander Frank Corolla (0-3, 4.33) will get the nod. Right-hander Michael Goodnight (3-1, 3.58) will start Saturday.

Musick, who was last year’s ace, will start Sunday with hopes of breaking out of his slump.

‘He’s been his own worst enemy,’ Noble said. ‘He falls behind in the count way too much, walks too many guys and has elevated too many pitches. I was looking at the stats today, and he’s given up 11 doubles and 26 earned runs. He’s got to learn to pitch down in the zone and stay ahead of hitters. That’s the key to being successful.

‘Hopefully, we can get him turned around. But we have three other guys who can jump in there and start that Sunday game.’

Noble declined to say whether he would change Musick’s spot in the rotation should he falter Sunday.

‘Well, I don’t know if I’m to that point right now,’ Noble said. ‘But you can’t dismiss the fact that Jared Ray is starting to throw the ball like (the way) we saw at the end of last season. You can’t leave a guy like that just coming out of a bullpen.

‘He’s got to be available to (start) one of four or five games that we play each week. We’ll see how he reacts this weekend, and if he can continue to throw it with the confidence that he’s throwing, he’ll plug in somewhere.’


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