The Houston Cougars got the news that they wanted to hear. The Cougars, despite losing the AAC Tournament Title game on Sunday, will indeed be hosting one of the 16 NCAA Baseball Regionals starting on Friday. A rather remarkable feat for a team that in early April was floundering, and after a disastrous 11-0 loss to Rice, looked on the verge of being completely shut out of NCAA postseason play.
It’s going to be quite the fascinating weekend for Houston-based college baseball, though, beyond just the Cougars (42-18) now being in great position to make the College World Series in Omaha. Not only are the Cougars hosting, but the Cougars are hosting crosstown rival Rice Owls (35-20), playing in its 21st straight NCAA regional, Louisiana-Lafayette (39-21), and Houston Baptist (28-25), the winner of this past weekend’s Southland Conference Tournament. Then toss in the fact that Texas Southern (31-17) is heading to Texas A&M to play in another NCAA Regional, and the result is a rather intriguing fact: all four of the Houston colleges that play Division One baseball are, for the first time ever, playing in a NCAA Regional.
“Not only do we live in a great city for baseball, we live in a great state for baseball,” UH head coach Todd Whiting said yesterday. “With four regional site hosts here in the state of Texas [UH, Texas A&M, TCU, and Dallas Baptist), and they’re all good teams and very deserving. That kind of adds a little bit of suspense here to the regional situation, and it adds a little more drama having this many teams this close being this good.”
The Cougars have played all of the teams in its regional this season, losing to HBU early in the season and Louisiana-Lafayette during the early-April slump. But UH won two of the three games against Rice, in the process winning, for the second straight season, the Silver Glove trophy which goes to the winner of the season series between the two teams.
“I think [the rivalry] has come a long way since our freshman year here where they ended up winning the Silver Glove” Houston outfielder Kyle Survance said yesterday. “The past two years we’ve been fortunate enough to keep it in the Third Ward. Just knowing that the program’s continually growing means a lot to us, and we take notice of it. We’re always trying to get better. We know that Rice is on the other side of town, and we have to continue going in the right direction.”
While admitting that Houston has put together a fantastic team, Rice catcher John Clay Reeves was adamant that he and his teammates feel the Owls are better than the Cougars.
“A lot of us felt after that last game, we should have won that game,” Reeves said yesterday. “I think anybody who watched that game realizes we probably should have won that game. But they came out on top, and the last two years they’ve come out on top in that series. That’s in the back of our minds.”
Players on the Cougars and Owls also said, after hearing of the Regional grouping, that it feels a lot like the high school baseball tournaments because all of the players know each other, have grown up playing against each other, and communicate with each other all of the time.
“It shows how much home grown talent the city of Houston has,” Rice outfielder Ryan Chandler said. “Growing up here, playing select ball at Baseball USA all of my life, you see the same kids. You played against them growing up, and playing on the biggest stages, it’s kind of cool.”
Houston’s Survance also weighed in: “It almost feels likes a high school playoff. Playing against a bunch of guys you grew up playing with, and you’ve known them forever. That adds a little bit more into it as well.”
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Listening to Whitting and Rice head coach Wayne Graham speak on the subject of Houston-area baseball, it’s makes one wonder why this is only the first time all four have made the NCAA post season at the same time. The area’s loaded with talent, they claim, along with great coaches.
“It’s as good as it is anywhere in the country,” Rice’s Graham said of Houston-area baseball. “A lot of good coaching, an awful lot of good players. The rest of the country knows it too, though, so they come in here to recruit. Probably the best youth league baseball in the country.”
Action in the Houston Regional gets underway at Cougar Field on Friday afternoon at 2:30 when Rice plays Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cougars are then scheduled to face HBU at 7:00. It’s a double-elimination tournament, so the losers of the Friday games face off at 2:30 on Saturday with the Friday winners playing Saturday night. The Saturday afternoon loser is done with the tournament, but the winner of that game will play the loser of the Saturday night game on Sunday afternoon, with the winner of that game facing the winner of the Saturday game on Sunday night. If the winner of the Saturday night game wins Sunday night, the regional’s over with the winner going on to the Super Regional next weekend, but if it loses, the two teams face off again on Monday night with the winner advancing to the next round.
Surprises and upsets happen every year in the regionals making for some fun and exciting baseball watching. Pair that with the excess of Houston-area baseball talent involved results in it being quite the weekend for college baseball fans.