The Houston Cougars were edged out in their Tuesday night game by crosstown rivals Rice Owls. Some fielding errors, stranding 11 men on base, and a mishandling of a strikeout that should have ended an inning doomed them to defeat. But it was a tense Tuesday, and felt like a rivalry should: a hard fought battle between two teams that don’t like each other very much and have a lot on the line. In this case, it is the Silver Glove Trophy. The Owls have won the first game in the three game season long series, but there is still hope for the fiery Todd Whitting led Cougars, who are now 13-7.
Junior Marshall Kasowski got the pitching start for Houston. And while he had pitched fairly well to start the season, he struggled in this one, loading the bases and allowing two runs in the first inning and another two in the second.
Going into the bottom of the second, the Cougars trailed, 4-0. Fortunately, they scored two runs, to get back within striking distance.
In the top of the fourth, freshman Trey Cumbie replaced Kasowski, and pitched a little over four innings admirably. Although he almost emerged unscathed, in the fifth, he ran into some trouble. He struck out Ford Proctor, but the pitch got away from catcher Connor Wong, and the Owl was able to reach first base on the mishandling. This extended the inning, which eventually yielded another run for Rice, putting the score at 5-2.
In the bottom of the fifth, Wong scored on a Joe Davis single, bringing Houston back within two. And in the bottom of the seventh, Wong scored again on a Corey Julks single. And after a Justin Montemayer single, the bases were loaded with one out. The game looked as though it was about to tip into the favor of the Cougars. But Jacob Campbell grounded into a double play and ended the inning. The score was 5-4.
By the top of the ninth, closer Nick Hernandez had taken over pitching for the Cougars. Although he had pitched well throughout the season, he struggled against Rice. He committed a throwing error, attempting to get a man out at second, instead of the easier out at first. Two insurance runs eventually scored for the Owls later in the inning.
Despite the 7-4 Rice lead, the bottom of the ninth surely made the Owls sweat. Wong singled to get on base. But it was Pyeatt’s plate appearance that made the tensions in this game boil over. With a 3-1 count, the umpire made a questionable call, calling what Coach Whitting believed to be a ball, a strike. The umpire seemed to have made some questionable calls all night, but with the stakes this high, and what he thought was an especially egregious call, Whitting stormed out onto the field. The conversation was so heated that he was not only ejected for the remainder of the game, but also for the one that followed.
This strange sequence of events was made even stranger when a security guard followed Whitting into the dugout, as though he was there to arrest him. Of course, this did not occur, and everyone was just confused about what was transpiring. And I’m sure the security guard eventually got a reprimand for violating protocol.
Pyeatt got the better of the situation, though, following it up with a double on a 3-2 count. The Cougars followed with two straight outs. But Montemayer was walked, which loaded the bases. Designated hitter Jacob Campbell was at the plate. A grand slam would have won it. But many other machinations, too, could have extended the game. Unfortunately, his hit resulted in a Wong out. The gamed ended at 7-4.
While Houston did lose, the game really did feel like a rivalry. And seeing coach Whitting fighting for his players was a sight to see. His fiery appearance in the umpire’s face encapsulates the rivalry. Whitting, a UH baseball alum, is the prefect man to lead this team. His personality represents that of his team. They are fighters. And while they didn’t win this one, they fought, and they will continue to fight as the season progresses.
Houston takes on George Washington University in a three games series that begins on Thursday at 6:30 at Schroeder Park.