Coogs' Pitching Keeps Putting Them In Big Holes

The Houston Cougar baseball team was able to win two of the three games that they played against the visiting Santa Clara Broncos. That they won isn't too surprising. That they won despite the continued awfulness of the starting pitching is rather surprising. That they nearly won all three games despite the starting pitching is also rather surprising.

The Cougars won a 17-9 game on Friday night that featured about the only decent performance from a starting pitcher. Michael Goodnight got the start and made it through five innings while surrendering five runs -- three in the first and two in the second. His offense bailed him out, giving him the win as the Cougars scored four times in the third, five times in the fourth, and three times in the fifth to take the 12-5 lead.

Goodnight's performance became rather impressive considering that the game was being played in 40-plus degree weather with a strong wind, and he was sitting on the bench getting cold while his offense was on the field.

"It's a tough night to have to sit," Cougar manager Rayner Noble said of Goodnight's performance. "We had some long innings, and I thought he did an admirable job considering as long as he had to sit between innings."

The Cougars pulled out the 3-2 win in the bottom of the ninth inning on Saturday night as centerfielder Joel Ansley singled, went to second on a wild pitch, then scored on an overthrow as Santa Clara attempted to get him at second base.

Despite the score, the starting pitching was awful as starter Ty Stuckey was pulled in the third inning because of a general inability to find the plate. Stuckey lasted longer than yesterday's starter, Eric Brooks, however.

Brooks never made it out of the first inning, facing six batters and surrendering four runs before Noble pulled the plug and went to his bullpen. The Cougars were down 4-0 after the first inning as the fans witnessed, once again, the Cougars putting themselves in a deep hole.

They made a valiant comeback attempt, scoring seven runs over four of the last six innings, but the game ended with a runner on base and a final score of 8-7.

Digging themselves out of holes and having to pull off the comeback is something that Noble has had enough of, however. And it's something that Noble is tired of dealing with, which is bringing about a big change in starting rotation.

"The starting pitching is going to change a tremendous amount," Noble said after yesterday's game, an 8-7 loss. "Guys have been given their opportunities to be starting pitchers, and they've been poor. So we're going to just start making some adjustments. I'm going to try and probably see if [Chase] Dempsay can be ready for Missouri on Friday. Start him. Probably put Goodnight on Texas [Saturday night], and then, I don't know. I might have a revelation about who's going to start on Sunday. Our starting pitching has been brutal."

That the Cougars won the games they did, and were in a position to win on Sunday, is the doing of one Cougar, first baseman and relief pitcher Matt Creel. Creel was a wrecking machine on Friday night, going four-for-six with two doubles, a triple and seven RBI. If not for the heavy wind, Creel might have had two HRs instead of the two doubles.

Creel was the pitcher of record on Saturday night, getting the win after pitching the final three innings in relief on Saturday night. And with the bullpen looking to implode again on Sunday afternoon, Creel again came in to pitch an inning-and-a-third. Creel credited his Friday hitting performance to his teammates, noting that it's a lot easier to hit when there are men on the bases.

"When you get base runners on, you get a lot more pitches to hit because pitchers don't want to throw balls away...." he said. "When everybody else gets hits, it gives you a lot more confidence at the plate."

The baseball team is now starting a tough week. They face the Rice Owls, one of the top college teams in the country, at Rice, on Tuesday, then they have the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park over the weekend. They'll face Missouri on Friday, Texas on Saturday, and Texas Tech on Sunday.

Noble is contemplating a few more changes in mind for the team as they enter into the Classic. "There might be a few changes in the field," he said. "All I'm looking for is guys who are going to want to compete and aren't overcome by the moment. Some guys are starting to step-up and show me that they can play when the pressure is on."

The Cougars are now officially on the road for the rest of the month. They next play at Cougar Field on Wednesday, March 24 when they host Stephen F. Austin at 6:30 p.m., then that weekend they'll host a weekend series against UCF as C-USA play gets off to a start.

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John Royal is a native Houstonian who graduated from the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. In his day job he is a complex litigation attorney. In his night job he writes about Houston sports for the Houston Press.
Contact: John Royal