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Sunday, April 5, 2020

Baseball

Roundtable: How will UH bounce back in 2020 after being left out of NCAA Tournament last season?


Lael Lockhart was picked as a preseason all-conference pitcher after the pitcher put up a 3.58 ERA and 76 strikeouts for UH in 2019. | Ahmed Gul/The Cougar

Lael Lockhart was picked as a preseason all-conference now-senior after the pitcher put up a 3.58 ERA and 76 strikeouts for UH in 2019. | Ahmed Gul/The Cougar

After a long offseason that saw the Cougars deal with being left out of the NCAA Tournament, UH starts its season on Friday at Schroeder Park against Youngstown State.

Houston, No. 35 in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper‘s preseason Fabulous 40, was among the first four out of the tournament but opens its year with winning on its mind.

The Cougar’s sports staff shared their thoughts on how Houston will do in 2020:

Sports Editor Jhair Romero

UH has a lot going for it when it starts 2020 at Schroeder Park on Friday.

For one, the Cougars, entering their 10th year under head coach Todd Whitting, are returning 20 players from 2019, a squad that won over 30 games but underperformed in American Athletic Conference play at 12-12.

Among the returnees for UH, picked second in the AAC preseason coaches’ poll, are preseason all-conference pitchers Clay Aguilar and Lael Lockhart Jr.

Both contributed greatly to Houston’s pitching staff in 2019, with Aguilar putting up a 6-4 record, 3.19 ERA and 73 strikeouts while Lockhart, a senior, added a 3.58 ERA and 76 strikeouts.

The Cougars, despite losing batting average leader Jared Triolo (.332), return three of its five top hitters with senior Tyler Bielamowicz (.253) and sophomores Derrick Cherry (.292) and Brad Burckel (.271) staying in Houston.

If the Cougars can live up to the hype, another snub from the NCAA Tournament is unlikely.

Assistant Sports Editor Andy Yanez

The Cougars are coming off a solid 32-24 season and expect the team to exceed last year’s benchmarks in 2020.

The reason to anticipate greater success for Houston is simple, experience. 

The Cougars have 20 players on the roster who are either juniors or seniors, so they will know what to expect when it comes to the long grind that comes with a baseball campaign.

Last season’s team led The American in ERA (3.82), which is another huge plus as many of the pitchers are returning upperclassmen.

Houston’s weakness in 2019 was with the hitting as the team was in last place in the conference when it came to batting average (.253), but with much of the Cougars having another year under their belt, the number should go up.

With this season also being the first with the new multi-million Player Development Center, the Cougars will have the latest state-of-the-art facility to help them achieve higher outcomes in 2020.

Staff Writer Trey Gifford

Houston can be expected to finish around second in the AAC and be in the NCAA Tournament, but a run past the Super Regionals isn’t quite there yet for the Cougars. 

The Cougars saw intense attrition this offseason. Four of UH’s star players were selected and left for the MLB draft, including record-setting first baseman Joe Davis. This shouldn’t bode well for a team that finished 12-12 in conference play last season and finished 4th in the AAC. 

Cougar’s coach Todd Whitting did great recruiting work this offseason, though, and pulled heavily from junior colleges around the state for some of the best JUCO players around. Watch for these studs in 2020.

These additions to a senior-heavy team should leave Houston with more than enough firepower to win their conference and make a push into the NCAA tournament.

Houston’s big test will be seeing how they match up against East Carolina, a team fresh off a 47-18 2019 campaign. The Pirates also suffered significant player attrition in the postseason but should have enough depth and talent to make another big push.

The talent on both Houston and East Carolina squads are comparable, and this matchup will come down to the coaching from AAC star coaches Cliff Godwin of ECU and Whitting. 

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