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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Sports

Cougars to test Eagles’ talons


The Cougars survived their first major test of the week when they upset Collegiate Baseball No. 21 Texas A&M, 9-2, Tuesday in College Station, but their next exam will be just as difficult.

UH (14-17, 4-2 Conference USA) continues its uphill climb to .500 with a three-game series against league rival Southern Miss this weekend at Cougar Field. The Cougars have won seven consecutive games and 10 of their last 12, but they’ll be in for a battle against Southern Miss (20-11, 6-3), which has owned UH during the last six seasons.

The Golden Eagles recorded victories in the teams’ last seven meetings and have won 14 of their last 19 matchups, including a victory in the C-USA Tournament. UH hasn’t won a game in the series since claiming a 13-5 decision April 15, 2006 in Hattiesburg, Miss.

Southern Miss has out-pitched the Cougars en route to three-game sweeps in 2007 and 2008, and it will bring another solid pitching staff into town this weekend. The Golden Eagles’ team ERA of 4.58 ranks fourth in C-USA, better than the Cougars’ 5.79 ERA.

Southern Miss, which is third in the league standings and only two games behind frontrunner East Carolina, also has been equally efficient at the plate, sporting a team batting average of .328 (second-highest in C-USA).

‘Over the last four or five years, I think Southern Miss is the most improved team in this conference,’ UH head coach Rayner Noble said. ‘They always will put out a quality starter on the mound, and offensively, they’re scrappy. We’re going to have to have our ‘A’ game this entire weekend if we’re going to have a chance.’

The Cougars will start right-hander Frank Corolla (1-3, 4.01 ERA) in the opener at 6:30 p.m. today. Southern Miss will oppose him with right-hander JR Ballinger (3-0, 3.76).

Right-hander Michael Goodnight (4-1, 3.37) and left-hander Wes Musick (2-5, 6.57) will start for UH on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Goodnight has been the Cougars’ most consistent starter, but Noble hopes that Corolla and Musick, last year’s ace, will step up their performances this weekend.

‘If we’re to go anywhere this year, we need our starting pitching on the weekend to be consistent,’ Noble said.

The Cougars’ pitching staff has received a boost from the return of catcher Chris Wallace, who missed 18 games with a fractured orbital bone. Wallace has provided valuable experience behind the plate, as well as a boost in the batter’s box (.435 average, four doubles, four home runs and 16 RBIs in five games since returning to the lineup).

With a rejuvenated pitching staff and offense, the Cougars are confident they have what it takes to knock off Southern Miss.

‘We’re got to make sure that we’re on top of our game,’ reliever Jared Ray said.


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