Perhaps it was the rigged bidding process that allowed the Texas Longhorns to host the games despite a worse record than UH's. Perhaps it was playing its last 17 games of the season on the road. Perhaps it was just the final result of playing one of the country's toughest schedules. Perhaps it was nothing more than just merely facing another tough baseball team that also happened to be on a hot streak.
Whatever the cause, the season is over for the Houston Cougars baseball team. The Cougars won 48 games this season, advanced to the Super Regional played in Austin after winning its conference tournament and pulled off a stirring comeback against LSU to win the regional in Baton Rouge that advanced the team to Austin. But maybe the team just finally ran out of gas because this weekend it lost two games to the Texas Longhorns, ending the season just short of the much desired trip to Omaha for a chance for the national championship.
"Our team played today like we played all year, they never stopped," said head coach Todd Whitting after UH outhit Texas 10-8 and left 14 runners stranded on base after Saturday's 4-0 loss. "I believe in the last four innings we had base runners all over the place. We just couldn't get that knock. It happens; we just couldn't get that big hit to get us jump-started. I thought we played well, we were into the game, and our kids played absolutely hard until the last out."
Despite falling short of Omaha, the season should be seen as quite the success for the Cougars. It was just two seasons ago that UH won only 18 games, but in his fifth year on the job, Whitting has rebuilt a baseball program that was on the slide. And in doing so, he's turned the Cougars into a winning, exciting team built on pitching, defense, and timely hitting. His players have bought into his team-first ethos, and as anybody who has watched the team play this season, it is a team that never quits.
"You're talking about a program that, two years ago, won 18 games," Whitting said. "We were so far away from being in this position right now that we could hardly see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you've just got to keep your nose down and keep grinding. I have tremendous coaches, we have tremendous players, we have tremendous support, so I would expect us to be able to maintain this and keep going forward."
This season's light at the end of the tunnel saw the Cougars defeat crosstown rival Rice three times, winning the Silver Glove series. It produced a team willing to take on all comers, playing some of the best college baseball teams in the country. The Cougars under Whitting have, perhaps more than any other sports program at UH, willingly taken up the challenge of playing and excelling against tough, difficult competition. "Right now, I can't think of any negatives throughout this whole season, throughout my whole college career," senior closer Chase Wellbrock said Saturday. "It's been a great experience playing for Coach Whitting for all four years and playing for University of Houston. Right now, I think we just need to keep our heads up. Like Coach said, we didn't catch any breaks this weekend. They caught a few, but I think we still need to hold our heads up high." And UH didn't catch the breaks. It loaded the bases twice on Saturday, but failed to score as the team hit into two double plays. The Cougars continuously had men on the bases, whether by hit or by walk, stranding five runners in the final two innings while UT's four runs came in the fourth inning when it strung together five of it's eight hits on the day.
"It just didn't happen," Whitting said. "We ran out of gas. They're out there fighting as hard as they can go and we just didn't get that hit, it's that simple."
The Cougars started the season with the goal of being one of the 64 teams partaking in postseason play. Then it wanted to be one of the 16 teams to emerge from the group of 64. Then the goal was to be one of eight that would turn into one of four, then one of two, then champion. The final steps didn't happen. But while it just didn't happen for the Cougars this weekend, the foundation for the seasons to come has been established. And that foundation for the seasons to come appears strong.