HOUSTON (CBS) – They’re finally home for a weekend. Most teams perform better at home, especially a young team such as the Houston Cougars. The last three weekend series have been on the road with only two home games sandwiched between a total of eleven. During that eleven game stretch, the Cougars finished with 4 wins and 7 losses.
They faced then number #14 Ole Miss in Oxford for a three-game series and were swept. They hosted always competitive Sam Houston State and finally routed 12-2. The Cougars won two-of-three at Oklahoma State. They lost two-of-three at Southern Miss and just lost a 14-5 bid to Baylor on last Tuesday at Cougar Field.
Those aren’t soft opponents. Add early season opponents former #5 Rice, Texas State, Tennessee, then #4 Arkansas, and former number 24 Texas Tech. Cougars Head Coach Todd Whitting admits that he and his young group have seen some stiff competition.
“The overlying theme this season is we’ve got 20 new players in our program and we’re playing a top 10 schedule in the country. That’s not a formula for success. That’s something I’ve evaluated over the last couple of weeks in making sure that we do a better job of scheduling. You look at teams across the country who are having a lot of success – they schedule smart.”
LESS MIGHT BE MORE
It’s extremely difficult for a coach or decision-making body to hand pick every opponent for a future schedule due to logistics, agreements, revenue-based obligations, etc. However, while Whitting and team are driven to compete at the highest level, it’s even more important to make wise choices when scheduling competition.
“I won’t back down from an opponent and I feel like we’re going to be competitive with anybody. However, when you’re on the road as much as we’ve been on the road and you’re playing Top 25 teams and facing great Friday and Saturday starters of the opposing team, it’s tough to build confidence.”
Six of the teams the Cougars have faced or will face through this Sunday are ranked in the top 20. Even more telling is that of the 13 teams the Cougars have faced this season, only 2 have losing records. The Cougars defeated one of those two teams on the road.
“You need those games where you play teams that you can pound pretty good, says Whitting. And we haven’t had any of those on our schedule up to this point. We’ve had some games where we’ve played really well and we got after it. But, we need a consistent string of winning games.”
“That’s what this program needs more than anything right now is success. And that’s one thing we’ll look at going forward is making sure we schedule. We’re going to schedule a great schedule – we’re going to play great teams. But just making sure that we’re a little more efficient and little smarter in how we do it.”
NUMBER 17 UCF IN TOWN
It doesn’t get any easier for the Cougars as the number 17 Knights of Central Florida are in town for a three-game series that gets underway Friday night. UCF is 20-6 while the Cougars are 10-13, 5-5 at home. The Cougars are 20-8 all-time in the series.
UCF is 17-5 at home, 3-1 on the road, and 2-1 in C-USA while the Cougars are 3-7 away and 1-2 in C-USA. UCF is a really good hitting team with a team batting average of .294 compared to Houston’s .263. But keep in mind that Houston is also 6-0 when holding opponents to fewer than two runs and 4-0 when the defense has been flawless. Just need more of that says the Coach.
“It all starts on the mound with defense and I explained to the team last week, says Whitting. “We were over at Southern Miss – catching a lot of heat over the team not hitting, the team striking out, this, that and the other. When you pull our stats against other great teams in the country, our offensive numbers are not that far off versus really good teams.”
A CLOSER LOOK
Just sticking with C-USA, Houston is near the bottom but better than 12th-ranked Marshall. Tulane has the best team batting average at .325 followed by Southern Miss at .298 and Central Florida. However it takes more than offense to win says Whitting.
“But, where the big difference is – in our fielding percentage and the teams I looked at were South Carolina, TCU, and Cal State Fullerton.”
South Carolina is ranked 17th in the nation while TCU is not ranked, but 12-10 on the season. Fullerton is 14th ranked. However, TCU’s fielding percentage is .978, South Carolina sports a .980 and Fullerton is .973. The Cougars fielding percentage is .951 and they’ve committed 43 errors. That ranks dead last in the conference.
“You kind of reap what you sow if you don’t play defense. That’s kind of been our issue to this point. We’ve swung the bat well at times – just wasn’t good enough to win more. We just have to get better starting pitching and we got to catch the ball behind them.”
“Some of our issues on defense right now – Casey Grayson’s been banged up. So, we got to move some guys around. (Jake) Runte’s been playing hurt for about two weeks. That’s why we had to move him off short on to second. He’s got a hand injury. So, there’s different things. (Chase) Jensen’s coming off shoulder surgery.”
THE BEAT GOES ON
The Friday night starter for the Cougars will be senior RHP Jared Ray. His current ERA is 5.88 and 1-2 on the season with 23 strikeouts after 26.0 innings pitched. Senior LHP Jordan Lewis is the probable for Saturday, while junior right-hander Austin Pruitt is the likely probable for Sunday’s 12:30 first pitch.
The Knights will counter with junior leftie Brian Adkins on Friday, junior leftie Chris Matulis on Saturday, and senior RHP Ray Hanson on Sunday.
“Coach (Terry) Rooney is in the 4th year of kind of a rebuilding project – a new head coach over there,” says Whitting. “He’s taken them to a NCAA Tournament his third year for the first time last year. So, he’s our program three years from now and he’s a good coach. They have a really good team.”