HOUSTON (CBS-Houston) – The Head Coach was confident before the season started that his young Cougars would play well and that confidence has paid off. After a 27-32, 2011 season, the Houston Cougars Baseball team under second year Head Coach, Todd Whitting, is off to a 3-1 start. While he and the Cougars could do without the 1 in the loss column, he’s still all smiles so far.
“We let one slip away from us last night (Tuesday). I felt like in the game (Tuesday night) we didn’t get beat. I felt like we lost the game and we want to minimize as many of those as we can this season. You know we did a few things throughout the game to give them a couple of runs.”
The Cougars first loss of the season was a 3-2 defeat on Tuesday night at Cougar Field against Texas A&M Corpus Christi after sweeping Delaware in the opening weekend series by scores of 7-5, 16-1, and 9-2.
Problematic for the Cougars against the Islanders were the two very critical errors committed in the 3rd and 4th innings that led to two scores giving the Islanders an early 2-0 lead.
The Islanders scored their third and final run in the 5th inning on a double by Eric Weiss that scored Jeramie Marek to take a 3-0 lead. The Cougars made a run for it in the bottom of the 8th scoring two thanks to a 2-run single by freshman leftfielder Price Jacobs. However, that’s where the scoring would end for the Cougars as they would fall 3-2 to the Islanders.
“I thought we fought back hard – late,” says Whitting. “The kids competed and the effort and attitude was awesome. So, they’re playing really hard right now. If you can have a good loss that was a good loss because I think it kind of brought us back down to earth a little bit after having a great weekend and got us refocused as well.”
Speaking of ‘back down to earth’, senior pitcher Jared Ray put his spin on the Tuesday night loss.
“I don’t think that we weren’t ready to play. It was just that, we came out and it was kind of like – we thought we were going to win and they kind of stuck it to us.”
“You know it’s like every fighter has a plan until he gets hit in the mouth and that’s what happened to us – we got hit in the mouth! And people kind of – oh man – this is going to be a fight! It took us until later in the game to get going and that was the biggest problem.”
ON THE JOB TRAINING
Whitting’s group has a good mix of youth and experience, but more youth. There are five freshmen getting plenty of work – leftfielder Price Jacobs, infielders Zack Gibson and Kendall Stacks, outfielder Keegan Sanford, and catcher Cory Kay.
Jacobs is a starter in left while Gibson has started 3 of 4 games in the DH role. While Whitting is excited about the positive start, he understands the frustrating learning process.
“There’s a lot of exciting things going on with the new players and there’s a lot of not very exciting things going on with the new players. All three errors, (Tuesday night), were the result of a freshman player.”
“But, a lot of the highlights, Price Jacobs with the big hit, and a couple of other things that went on offensively, were the result of new players. So, it’s kind of a hot and cold thing with those guys right now. They’ll settle in and get more consistent, and as they do our team is going to get better.”
One of those freshman paying dividends early is Jacobs who leads the team with 9 RBI, two of those against the Islanders. He was also responsible for one the errors mentioned earlier that led to a run. Regardless, Whitting sees the upside.
“He’s swinging it really well. He’s very confident at home plate right now. I’m really, really pleased with how far Price has come along since day one of the fall. He went from being just another freshman player to being an elite freshman player. And it hasn’t just shown up in the games, it’s shown up in practice as well. He’s earned the right to play and he’s done a good job keeping himself in the lineup.”
But, while Whitting went on to praise one of his youngsters, he also lauded veteran junior Jacob Lueneberg who, along with senior Jake Runte, leads the team with 7 hits.
“He’s got pretty good numbers right now”, says Whitting. “But his positive-at-bat-percentage is through the roof. He is squaring up everything at this point – hard line-out to end the game yesterday (Tuesday) – hard line-out to leftfield early in the game. Made a really small mechanical adjustment with him on the fly last weekend, and he’s really taken to it.”
Lueneberg is hitting .412 which is second to junior IF Taylor White, tops on the team with a .500 BA, 6 hits, 4 runs, and 3 walks.
TEXAS STATE NEXT UP
This is team that under 13-year Head Coach Ty Harrington has enjoyed much success. Harrington has led the Bobcats to three consecutive Southland Conference championships, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The Bobcats have also enjoyed three NCAA Regional Tournament appearances, the latest in 2011.
Whitting knows the 2-2 Bobcats will be a tough weekend opponent especially after losing 5-1 to Baylor on Wednesday night.
“I think Texas State, to the average college baseball fan, is one of the most underrated programs in the country. They’re very dangerous. They’re going to be well-coached, they’re very athletic. They can pitch (and) they have a lot of returners on their team who’s had a lot of success over the last couple of years.”
Texas State finished 41-23 in 2011 after being eliminated 4-3 by Texas in game 3 of the Austin Regional. Along the way, the Bobcats swept the Cougars during their one-time weekend series in San Marcos, 11-10, 17-15, and 2-1.
“So, this is going to be a huge test for us. This may be one of the toughest weekends that we have the entire season. It may not be the most glamorous opponent, like I said for the average fan who just glances at our schedule. But this may be one of the best teams in the State we’re playing this weekend.”
GET IT GOING
Whitting will put Friday night starter and senior Jared Ray on the mound to get the Cougars off to a good pace. Ray has a 1.80 ERA after 5 innings pitched. He has allowed 7 hits, 1 run, surrendered 2 walks, and struck out 3. He says he’s ready to go.
“Last year when I wanted to throw, it was how do I feel today, you know, that type of thing,” says Ray. “That’s in the back of your mind all week when you’re going into the start.”
Last season, Ray suffered from tendinitis which was positive news since he had experienced three surgeries on his right arm before going into his junior year. So, obviously, it’s great to feel good once again.
“Now, I’m healthy and I don’t have to worry about those things. I can just prepare for my start, get the things done I need to get done, not worrying about what I’m going to have come Friday night.”
Ray says he likes being the Friday night starter and knew that he was capable of pitching in the Friday night spot. However, this Friday night he knows what he’s up against and while he didn’t travel to San Marcos in 2011 for that 3-game set, he’s looking for a better ending.
“They’ve always got a good team and the Southland Conference is good. Sam Houston State, they’re good. Lamar is good. It’s (Southland) not just some sloppy conference. So, we just got to prepare and just make sure that we eliminate the mistakes. That’s what got us beat (Tuesday) night and that’s the thing that will get you beat in every baseball game.”
The weekend pitching rotation for the Cougars will consist of Ray on Friday, senior Jordan Lewis on Saturday, and freshman Aaron Garza on Sunday. First pitch Friday night at Cougar Field is 6:30.