It was not a good weekend, again, for Houston Cougars baseball. Just as they were swept by the Rice Owls over Easter weekend, this past weekend the Cougars were swept by the TCU Horned Frogs, one of the top-ranked teams in the country. And unlike the Rice games, where the Cougars were at least competitive in the finale, the TCU series found the Cougars losing 15-1, 6-1, and 12-2.
Just like their professional brethren playing a couple of miles away in Minute Maid Park, the Cougars failed in every single aspect of their play over the weekend. They couldn't get a quality start out of either of their pitchers. The bullpen fell apart, probably from overwork; the defense was shoddy, and the hitting was almost nonexistent.
Asked if the team's play over the weekend concerned him, Cougar coach Rayner Noble went with the obvious answer of yes, then expanded on that yes. "Obviously it does," he said. "You can't play defense. You can't pitch. The hitting is kind of in a swoon. So yeah, I'm very concerned. But I have faith in my team, and I have faith in my coaches. I think we can get this thing rectified and get moving on the right track."
After the 12-2 Sunday loss, with ace Michael Goodnight on the mound, the Cougars' record fell to 13-17 on the season. So if the team is going to get this thing rectified and moving on the right track, it's going to have to do so soon, as half of the season has now passed.
The Cougars pitching was suspect from the beginning, but the hitting had been carrying the team. Then they started to face good-pitching team after good-pitching team, and just as the Astros found themselves having difficulty in facing the likes of Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Matt Cain, Roy Halladay, and J.A. Happ, the Cougars had trouble when facing the pitching staff of TCU, one of the better pitching staffs in college baseball.
"TCU has an outstanding pitching staff, and you cannot be falling behind too far, too early," Noble said on Sunday. "It's kind of hard to overcome a three-run homer right there [TCU took the early Sunday lead of 3-0 on a second-inning, three-run homer]. The whole weekend was one where we just didn't take advantage of the opportunities that were there in front of us. We had opportunities to drive in runs, we just -- it didn't happen this weekend. Very sloppy in the field. It was a weekend where you would just as soon as forget, but we've got to regroup. There's half a season left, and we've got to get it together."
Getting it together is not going to be easy, for this last half is going to be difficult if the Cougars don't get their pitching figured out. Friday's starter, William Kankel, lasted a mere two innings, surrendering five runs in the process, and Sunday found Kankel playing the role of the designated hitter. Saturday's starter, Taylor Hammack, was somewhat successful, going 5.2 innings and surrendering just one run. But the bullpen imploded, helped by shoddy defense, and they gave up four unearned runs in the loss. Then came Goodnight on Sunday, who lasted five innings, but gave up six runs (five earned) in the process before the bullpen came in and surrendered six more runs.
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The Cougars situation may also have been hurt due to an injury to catcher Chris Wallace, who was hit in the wrist by a pitch in the seventh inning yesterday. He stayed in the game, took his base, then scored on Joel Ansley's pinch hit single to centerfield. However, Wallace appeared to land on his wrist when sliding into the plate with the run, and he did not return to the game. He was due to have x-rays on Monday, and Noble would not further speculate on the injury.
The Cougars play in UT-San Antonio tonight, hoping to avenge a late-inning defeat from several weeks ago. But Noble sees this as more than a chance for revenge against San Antonio; it's a chance, though slight, for some redemption.
"It gives us an opportunity to go out there and redeem ourselves a little bit after we played so poorly for three games," he said.
The Cougars return home on Friday for a three-game C-USA matchup against Memphis. Memphis sits in the middle of the C-USA pack with a conference record of 5-4 (14-19 for the season). The Cougars are next to last with a conference record of 2-4.