Rising star Cameron Nickens has UH rolling at the right time
Sophomore outfielder Cameron Nickens hit just four home runs in his freshman campaign in 2022.
In late March 2023, he knocked five pitches out of the park in one week.
Add in a walk-off base hit in the series opener against No. 8 East Carolina —a series UH would win — plus another hit a day later, and Nickens’ hit streak went for an astonishing nine games. In those games, the sophomore batted a ridiculous .350 on 40 plate appearances, drove in 11 runs and crossed home plate himself 10 more times.
Thanks to the sophomore’s heroics, the Cougars are back to .500 on the season and winners of nine of its last 12 games, just in time for conference play.
“It felt like you just couldn’t get him out,” said senior infielder Ian McMillan. “Everything he hit was hard.”
Before his hitting explosion, Nickens had gone 16 at-bats without a single hit and had yet to log a homer all year. What changed? The 19-year-old from Magnolia, TX said it was just a matter of making contact.
“I was just trying to focus on hitting the ball more and putting it into play,” Nickens said. “The power just kind of showed up.”
Nickens’ ability to hit was never a concern when head coach Todd Whitting brought him to UH. The lightly-recruited batter hit .404 in his senior year and won district MVP while at Magnolia High School.
“He has that knack for driving runs in,” Whitting said. “Every time you’d show up at the ballpark (to watch him), he’s not only getting hits, he gets big hits.”
Nickens began playing baseball as a toddler and grew up playing at a high level of competition at Magnolia. Two of his former high school teammates, Josh Groshans and Adam Kloffenstein, were drafted in the first and third rounds of the 2018 MLB draft. Another teammate, Preston Hoffart, plays for the No. 21 Texas Longhorns.
“I was facing good competition every single day I stepped on the field,” Nickens said, “so I think that really helped me as a player.”
Despite being battle-tested out of high school and an instinctual hitter, what has impressed Whitting the most this year is Nickens’ fielding.
“One thing that’s gone a little bit unnoticed with Cam is how much he’s improved his defense,” Whitting said. “Last year, I think every time late in the game we had a lead, I would put a defensive replacement out there. Now, I’ll leave Cam in the games.”
Though an infielder for much of his life, Nickens was forced to make the transition to the outfield when he became a Cougar. It was a tough switch, and it came with its share of growing pains.
“I was a little uncomfortable out there last year… (having) never been in a game as an outfielder,” Nickens said. “My first year was kind of like a learning process.”
A year later, thanks largely to outfield coach and UH alumnus Tyler Bielamowicz, Nickens has found his footing, and it has shown on the field. In the Cougars’ second game against ECU, Nickens had another highlight when he leaped into the outfield wall for a critical home-run robbery. A day later, he caught the series clinching out on a routine line drive.
Nickens’ growth and Houston’s run of big wins could not have come at a better time. UH will enter conference play with incredible momentum and, if it continues, will have its eyes set on the American American Conference tournament and potentially its first NCAA regional appearance since 2018.
“It builds confidence for everyone, not just me, but everyone on the team,” Nickens said. “Every day is a new day, and we’re just trying to win that day ahead.”