The pursuit of the Silver Glove Trophy between the intra city rivals Houston Cougars and Rice Owls commences at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, March 22 at Schroeder Park. It will be the first of three meetings throughout the season between the teams, each who would like to set the tone early.
Although Rice holds the series advantage against Houston, with a 102-76 lead, the Cougars have earned the Silver Glove in each of the last two years, coinciding with their reemergence as a national power under Todd Whitting, which began in earnest during the 2014 campaign.
While both of these teams played in the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic, they did not play each other. Neither fared well in the tournament, though, going a combined 0-6. The Cougars started a five game losing streak with their winless appearance in this tournament. This caused concern for many. But considering the level of competition, and the fact that starting pitcher Seth Romero was suspended for much of this stretch, the sky is beginning to look like it is not falling after all.
This is because the Cougars have won nine of their last ten, including series wins over Baylor and Alabama, and most recently, a series sweep of Grand Canyon University. Some of this success has to do with a lower level of competition. Much of it, however, also has to do with the return of Seth Romero, who has now grown comfortable in the Saturday starting position.
The one-two punch of Andrew Lantrip and Seth Romero is arguably the best pitching duo in the country. With a 1.53 and 0.78 ERA, respectively, Houston’s chance of a getting a victory on any given Friday or Saturday is very good. Both pitched complete games in the series against Grand Canyon, and Romero was named the American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week with his 13 strikeouts against the Lopes.
Midweek starters Marshall Kasowski and Mitch Ullom have pitched fairly well, too. Both are 2-1, with an ERA of 2.70 and 3.86, respectively. Ideally, their numbers will improve, as well, as the rotation is essentially finalized, with Romero back. His return also takes pressure off of them and the entire pitching staff.
Houston’s offense also seems to be coming into its own, at least in some parts. The most consistent hitter is freshman phenom Joe Davis, who is batting .408, with 14 runs, and 25 RBIs. Others are close behind, such as Connor Wong and Connor Hollis. Both Conners are hitting above .300, and have accounted for many runs.
With Wong and Davis, the top of the order has proven that they can get on base. If the bottom of the order could succeed similarly, led by Hollis, Houston could really win a lot of games going forward.
The 13-6 Cougars have looked progressively better as the season has come along. But Rice will pose a challenge. While they are 10-9, many of their losses came against tough competition. And they have now won four of their last six, and will look to keep this momentum going against their rival.
The Owls have two players hitting batting above .300, in Ford Proctor and Ryan Chandler. Their pitching has a 3.66 team ERA, led by J. Parthasarathy’s 1.32.
But, of course, Rice is coached by Wayne Graham, the legendary 79-year-old who led his team to a College World Series Championship in 2003. His leadership makes any game against the Owls a hard fought one.
But Houston has Todd Whitting at the helm of its program. In his sixth year coaching his alma mater, he has led his Cougars to a renaissance of sorts. His team is currently ranked #16 in country and coming off of hosting a regional in 2015 and going to a super regional in 2014. Whitting is building an excellent program that is already a national power. And with two seasons with the Silver Glove Trophy in tow, he will no doubt want it again this year. And Tuesday’s game is the first step in assuring that this occurs.