College Baseball: Rice Sweeps the Trojans While UH Struggles Against the Rebs

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John Royal
Rice's Michael Ratterree tags out USC's Matt Foat trying to advance on a sac fly
In the first weekend of the college baseball season, it was the Houston Cougars pulling off the home sweep of UT-Arlington while the Rice Owls were losing two of three to visiting Stanford. The competition for the Cougars was a bit tougher this weekend as they hosted SEC mainstay Ole Miss while across town Rice was hosting the USC Trojans.

It was a struggle for Rice this weekend, but a struggle they'll take as they pulled off the three-game sweep, defeating USC 10-7 on Friday and 6-5 on Saturday in come-from-behind thrillers while holding on for the 3-2 victory yesterday afternoon. The Cougars weren't so lucky, losing two of three, getting an 8-2 win on Saturday night to salvage a little pride.

Neither team is without problems as they head into midweek games before hitting the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park this weekend. The Owls (5-3) are having their usual bullpen problems, though Abe Gonzales and J.T. Chargois did excel in the clutch this weekend, and the pitching staff, as a whole, issued way too many walks, ten alone on Friday night. And with Anthony Rendon reduced to a DH role because of an aching shoulder, the team's defense appeared to suffer.

The Owls, Anthony Rendon aside, are still struggling at the plate, though that's partly a result of the number of exceptional, hard-throwing pitchers they've faced so far. But Graham was pleased that the guys were making decent contact, and that they're working the count.

"We got better," he said. "Guys are tired of losing, they don't want to lose. They're starting to get it. We're working real hard on them on their two-strike approach."

Starters Matthew Reckling and Austin Kubitza struggled on Friday and Saturday, Reckling failing to make it past the fourth inning and Kubitza coming out during the sixth on Saturday. But Sunday's starter, John Simms, pitched an exceptional game, especially as he had been scratched from his Friday start due to tonsillitis earlier in the week.

The Cougars (5-2) did get good pitching for most of the weekend, with Codey Morehouse and Jordan Lewis solidifying their roles as Friday and Saturday starters. And for the most part, the Cougar bullpen did a good job on the weekend, if you completely wipe the Sunday game from your memories. The Cougars surrendered only four runs on Friday and two on Saturday, but they had trouble figuring out the Ole Miss pitching staff.

But the Cougars were embarrassed yesterday afternoon, losing 8-3 in a game where the starting pitching and bullpen fell apart and the hitters had trouble figuring out Ole Miss starter Austin Wright.

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John Royal
Houston's Ryan Still scores in the first inning against Ole Miss
"I thought he pitched well," UH coach Todd Whitting said of Wright. "I did not think our hitters did a good job of adjusting to what he was doing. We did not force him - we got ourselves out. We didn't really force him to throw a lot of strikes. He was wild within the zone and a little bit around the zone. And I thought we should have a little better job of coming out of the gate and switching up our approach a little bit, and basically just hitting strikes."

Whitting is trying to change the culture around the Cougars. It's not enough that the Cougars be competitive, even if they are playing a game to a school from the SEC. He wants to win, and that's the attitude he wants his kids to have every time they take the field.

"They're eager to learn. They're coachable," he said. "We're still trying to work some things with what we want to do here in our program. When the games start, things speed up a little bit. What they have to learn is that when the game speeds up, just to stay under control, do what they've been taught and we'll be fine. But I'm really pleased with how they've done to this point. There's no -- I thought we played well this weekend against Ole Miss, but I want to win the series. Playing well against a SEC team is not a victory for us. I want to win those games. I expect us, no matter who we play, to win the series or sweep."

The Owls meanwhile continue playing elite teams as they go on the road for two in Arizona before playing at the Houston College Classic over the weekend. And for the foreseeable future, the Owls' third baseman will be Michael Ratterree as Rendon sticks to designated hitter duties. But the Owls are used to tough schedules and tough teams and there's no culture that Wayne Graham needs to change.

The Owls and Cougars will spend the majority of the next several weeks on the road with each team having just three home games between now and March 18. Both squads will be participating in the Houston College Classic this weekend, though they will not play each other, and while the Owls visit Arizona tomorrow and Wednesday the Cougars will have only a game against UTSA tomorrow night.

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