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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Baseball

Kelso grows into team leader


Junior Blake Kelso has seen his stature and role on the team grow since his freshman campaign and is putting together the best season of his career when it matters most. | Justin Flores/The Daily Cougar

On Feb. 22, 2008, UH head baseball coach Rayner Noble penciled then-freshman Blake Kelso into the lineup for his first career collegiate start. Kelso has yet to miss a game since, starting all 153 games that the Cougars have played during his career.

Now a junior, Kelso has grown during his time playing for the Cougars, both as a person and a player. He began his career hitting at the bottom of the lineup without much fanfare but has become a fixture in of the leadoff spot.

“The more you play each year, you learn to be more and more patient,” Kelso said. “You try to make the game slower than it should be. Since I don’t have a lot of power, I don’t go up there trying to hit home runs. I try to work my way on base because I’m the leadoff hitter.”

Coming out of Pflugerville High School, scouts were wary of how Kelso would project at the next level because of his size.

“A lot of people (were) saying, ‘You’re too small. You’ll never do anything,’” Kelso said. “That just really made me work harder and harder until I got to this point.”

Despite offers from other programs such as Notre Dame and Texas — close to his hometown of Pflugerville — Kelso chose UH because of the opportunity to start as a freshman.

“I knew I was going to have to go to college for at least three years if I wanted to play (professional baseball), sharpen my skills and get my name out there,” he said. “When I visited, I liked coach Noble and the staff. I felt like I would start my freshman year.”

Despite an inconsistent season for the Cougars as a team, Kelso has been a constant at the plate and in the field. He is posting career-highs in batting average (.336), on-base percentage (.422) and slugging percentage (.460) while leading the Cougars with 13 multi-hit games.

Kelso’s abilities were on display against some of the other top college players in the nation this summer when he played in the Cape Cod Baseball League, which uses wooden bats. Kelso came away hitting .260 with a .358 OBP and swiping 18 bags to go along with stellar defense.

“It’s a little different,” Kelso said. “But you get used to it after a while. I like using wood bats. I did pretty (well). I didn’t feel like I was overmatched. I just went out and played the way I do.”

Kelso’s solid showing has him projected to be drafted as high as the fourth round in this summer’s Major League Baseball amateur draft. For now, though, Kelso’s primary focus is to help lead the Cougars, who have lost seven of their last 11 games.

“We’ve hit a little rut as of late. We’ve just got to get everything going together,” he said. “We’ve either been hitting well and not pitching well or pitching well and not hitting well. You’ve got to put them both together if you’re going to go somewhere.

“If we put it together, we could do some big things.”

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