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Saturday, June 25, 2022

Baseball

Santiago Garcia, UH’s unlikely hero at AAC baseball tournament


UH's Santiago Garcia has delivered six hits, included a walk-off single against Memphis on Thursday night, in the Cougars' first two games of the AAC baseball tournament. | Courtesy of American Athletic Conference/Julio Aguilar

UH’s Santiago Garcia has delivered six hits, included a walk-off single against Memphis on Thursday night, in the Cougars’ first two games of the AAC baseball tournament. | Courtesy of American Athletic Conference/Julio Aguilar

When Santiago Garcia arrived in Clearwater, Florida for the American Athletic Conference baseball tournament he had registered only 27 at-bats all year.

It didn’t appear that the fifth-year graduate transfer from Alabama State would get many if any at-bats throughout the week as the Cougars chased after a conference tournament title.

But the limited at-bats and not traveling with the team on some road trips throughout the regular season did not stop Garcia from staying prepared so that he would be ready for the moment whenever the

“When Santi wasn’t playing, maybe wasn’t even on our (travel) roster, he never got down, he never pouted, he never felt sorry for himself, he never blamed anybody else,”  said UH baseball head coach Todd Whitting. “He just kept working.”

Garcia’s teammates noticed the same thing and his positive energy was a real motivator for the team.

“(Garcia) shows up the same guy every day,” said UH center fielder Brandon Uhse. “Whether he might not be traveling or he’s hitting in the four-hole, he’s the same guy every day. He’s easily one of our best teammates.”

Having the right attitude and staying prepared paid off on Tuesday night as Whitting penciled in Garcia in the cleanup spot in the Cougars’ tournament opener against Wichita State due to the Shockers starting a lefty on the mound.

“With (Wichita State) going with the lefty, it was automatic that that was what we were going to do just with the matchups and looking at the splits,” Whitting said.

Garcia delivered, going 4-for-4,  including a pair of doubles, and driving in three to help lift the Cougars past the Shockers in their tournament opener.

“I was trying to focus more on quality at-bats,” Garcia said after the game. “I was just glad I was able to do that. Go up there four times, have four quality at-bats.”

Less than 48 hours later, Garcia found himself in another huge situation.

After two poor at-bats in his first two trips to the plate against Memphis, Whitting had a chat with Garcia about making an adjustment in his approach at the plate.

Garcia made the adjustment and singled to left field in the sixth. While that single didn’t amount to any runs, it was a nice confidence boost that prepared Garcia for a situation three innings later.

Tied at 7-7 with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth, Garcia stepped to the plate.

UH second baseman Brandon Burckel rushes towards Santiago Garcia after the Cougars' DH deliver a walk-off single against Memphis on Thursday night. | Courtesy of American Athletic Conference/Mary Holt

UH second baseman Brandon Burckel rushes towards Santiago Garcia after the Cougars’ DH deliver a walk-off single against Memphis on Thursday night. | Courtesy of American Athletic Conference/Mary Holt

UH shortstop Ian McMillian told Garcia when he was in the hole preparing for a possible at-bat that the game would come down to the Cougars’ DH. Just as he had done all tournament, No. 8 delivered once again, lining a 2-0 pitch into left field for a walk-off single.

“It’s real simple with him — when he gets over the ball and tries to go in that right-center gap he’s pretty effective,” Whiting said. “You saw him make the adjustment midgame so I was really confident when (Memphis) walked Tulimero that (Garcia) was going to get done for us.”

When he arrived in Florida, Garcia knew his time as a college baseball player was drawing to an end and so he has made it a priority to live in the moment throughout the tournament, no matter how small or big the situation he finds himself in is.

And that’s exactly what Garcia did, channeling the kid inside of him as he stepped to the plate before delivering UH past Memphis to put the Cougars in a prime position to make Sunday’s tournament championship game.

“In that moment it’s just going back to being a little kid,” Garcia said. “The biggest thing is just enjoying the moment and not making it bigger than what it is and just having fun with it.

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