After a dominant series sweep of the George Washington Colonials, the 16-7 Houston Cougars return to action on Tuesday, against arguably the best team in the nation, #1 Texas A & M.
While the Cougars outscored the Colonials 24-2 throughout the three game series, and have won 12 of their last 14, the Aggies will present a considerable challenge. Their record is an impressive 21-3. While the first two-thirds of their schedule was against a fairly soft schedule, in the last few weeks they have beaten their arch rival, Texas, and won series against conference divisional foes Auburn and LSU.
The series victory against #15 LSU, a perennial baseball powerhouse, was particularly impressive, and, ultimately, what catapulted them to #1 in the nation in multiple polls, including Baseball America and D1Baseball.com.
Houston and A & M met once last year, in the College Baseball Classic at Minute Maid Park. The Aggies triumphed, 6-0. While they were 50-14 last season, reaching a Super Regional, they could be even better this year.
The Cougars have struggled against good teams this season. They went winless in this year’s College Baseball Classic, losing to three ranked teams. Granted, Seth Romero was still suspended due to a disciplinary issue. Since his return, though, the team has improved, especially in pitching consistency. While they did get an impressive series victory over an up-and-down Alabama team, they lost to Rice last Tuesday in a hard fought battle that saw head coach Todd Whitting get ejected for a heated protest of a questionable strike call.
But they are coming off of an emphatic series sweep, and likely want to defeat the team that plays only 100 miles away and also happens to be the best college baseball squad in the nation quite a bit. A win over this recent SEC arrival would really give the Cougars momentum going into conference play the following weekend. But, it won’t be easy.
The Aggies have significant pitching depth. They have had multiple midweek starters on the mound. Brigham Hill has some has made some, but also comes out of the bullpen. He has an ERA of 1.38, with 26 strikeouts and 4 walks. But in their last midweek game Stephen Kolek got the start on the mound. He has a 1.64 ERA in three appearances.
A & M is also hitting well, at .336 as a team. Boomer White has the highest batting average, at .404, but their depth is apparent. Seven other starter are hitting above .300, including J.B. Moss, at .396 with an accompanied 23 RBIs.
This talent on both sides will be difficult for the Cougars to stifle. But it is possible. Houston’s pitching is a bit top heavy, with superstar aces Andrew Lantrip and Seth Romero. While neither is likely to pitch in this game, they have won a lot of games this season. Others will have to step up in this one.
Usual midweek starting pitcher, Marshall Kasowski, has a 4.32 ERA on the season. He struggled against Rice last week, allowing four runs in a little over three innings pitched. But the oddness of the Thursday start to the last series altered the lineup a bit. So we could even see a pitcher like Sunday starter, John King, who didn’t see the mound against George Washington. But whoever gets the start will be tasked with an extraordinarily difficult task. They will need the Cougar offense to play as well as they have this season so as to allow some breathing room.
Houston’s offense is led by freshmen phenom Joe Davis, who is hitting .402 on the season, with 6 homeruns, and 31 RBIs. Connor Wong and Michael Pyeatt follow, hitting .365 and .349, respectively. But these three are usually at the top of the order. The bottom of the order has struggled at times, and includes Jose Reyes, at .206 and Zac Taylor at .200.
If the Cougars can pull of a more consistent performance at the plate, and improve their .279 team batting average, they could, potentially win this one. It would be a statement game for Houston and give them significant momentum going forward, along with bragging rights and warm fuzzy feelings.