The Houston Cougars and Memphis Tigers were about an hour into a two hour 19 minute rain delay yesterday when Cougar infielder Jake Runte stepped out of the dugout, into the rain, and started dancing. Teammate David Murphy jumped out and slid around on the tarp, and the preteen batboys and the student trainer joined Runte for dances. But despite the encouragement of the Cougar bench, the Tiger players would not join Runte in the rain, declining the opportunity to join in a dance-off.
So while the Cougars stayed loose, the Tigers stayed huddled in the dugout, thinking about the game that was tied 3-3 in the top of the sixth inning. Maybe the Tigers tightened up a bit. Maybe the Cougars just wanted it more, but by the time it was all over, nearly an hour-and-a-half after the rain delay ended, the Cougars were walking off of the field, victors by the final score of 8-6.
Cougars coach Rayner Noble was happy with the win, and he enjoyed watching Runte's antics during the rain delay, but he was happier about winning two of the three games that they played against Memphis this weekend because when it comes to C-USA baseball, winning a series is what's important.
"That's what's key," Noble said yesterday afternoon. "The name of the game in this league is either sweeping or getting two out of three, and mission accomplished this weekend."
The Cougars got the weekend off to a good start by winning a come from behind battle 10-7 in a Friday night game of errors, bizarre plays, and huge hits. All three often coming at the same time, as it did in the bottom of the sixth inning with the Cougars down 7-4.
After the PA mistakenly announced the end of the inning after the Cougars grounded into a double play, Cougar second baseman Travis Trial got a hold of a pitch from Memphis starter Brennon Martin that headed deep toward the right/center field gap. Memphis center fielder Drew Martinez, after a long run, got to the ball and appeared to make the catch. But the ball hit the heel of his glove and bounced to the turf, whereon Martinez kicked the ball into the right field corner. Trial, not knowing what was going on, just did as his coaches instructed, scoring the run on his own single combined with a three-base error.
"I saw [third base coach Russell Stockton] waiving me around, and I thought, all right, I'll give it everything I've got," Trial said. "Then he gave me the stop sign, so I was like, all right, I at least got a triple. And all of sudden, he starts waiving me around again, and I was like, oh jeez. It was a crazy play. I thought he caught it at first. Then I heard [first base coach Jorge] Garza tell me to keep going, and I just kept running."
The Cougars then followed with two singles from Blake Kelso and Zak Presley, and still, with two outs, Joel Ansley tripled to the wall in the left field gap, and just like that, the Cougars were up 8-7 in a game that they would go on to win 10-7.
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Noble didn't care how Friday night's win came about. He just wanted the win.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "As up and down as we've been, it doesn't matter how we get into the win column, it's just a matter of getting into the win column. We still played poorly in my opinion. Out starting pitching was non-existent, again. But you know, you've got to hand it to the guys who came out of the bullpen....Chalk this one up to the bullpen. They did a fabulous job tonight."
As has been the case all too often this season, the Cougars starting pitching struggled this weekend. Taylor Hammack only made it through three innings on Friday, giving up five earned runs on seven hits. And Ty Stuckey made it through only 2.1 innings yesterday before being pulled. The Cougars did a get a quality start from Michael Goodnight on Saturday -- he went seven innings and gave up three runs -- but the bullpen imploded in the ninth inning and Memphis won their only game of the series, 8-2.
Eight of the Cougars next nine games will be on the road, and the team is now 16-18 on the season and 4-5 in C-USA play. But the conference is tightly packed, led by Rice with a 8-4 record, so the Cougars, with upcoming games against Southern Mississippi and UAB stand poised to gain ground. If they can find some steady pitching, that is.