The Houston Cougar baseball team has been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride this season. They weren't supposed to be very good, not with the new coach, roster turnover, and a near non-existent pitching staff devastated by injury. Yet they burst out to their best start in years, only to fall back to earth, only to rise again, only to fall back.
John Royal Codey Morehouse trots home after hitting a home run on Friday
They've had great pitching and no offense. Or they've had offense and no pitching. And then the defense has come around to kill them. Or the bullpen. All this while they've defeated some of the best college baseball team in the country while losing to some of the teams on the bottom tier.
And no stretch has best represented the Cougars this season than the past 10 games. They started things out by sweeping Tulane, a conference foe that was ranked by some of the collegiate baseball ranking services. This put the Cougars in first place in conference play. Then they went to College Station and brought down the mighty Aggies, another ranked team, last Tuesday, only to return home on Wednesday and lose 5-2 to Lamar.
That set up the weekend where the Cougars (17-17, 4-2) were hosting C-USA rival UAB (18-13, 6-3) for a three-game series. The Blazers came in with a 4-2 conference record, tied with Rice for third place in the conference. Like the Cougars, they weren't picked to finish very high during the preseason, but behind one of the best pitching staffs in the conference, they're right in the mix.
Thus the question: which Houston Cougar baseball team was going to take the field? The one that swept the likes of Tulane or the one that has seen the bullpen give up double-digit leads on multiple occasions? Would they have standout pitching and no defense? Or no pitching and lots of offense?
Unfortunately for the Cougar faithful, the team that showed up Friday and Saturday was the one with some good pitching, but no offense and no defense whereas on Sunday the offense showed up but the pitching fell apart. Then again, UAB had some good pitching, and as the saying goes, good pitching wins ball games.
Dillon Napoleon, Friday's starter for UAB, is currently C-USA's pitcher of the week. And he showed why as he shut the Cougars down, limiting them to five hits and one run -- a home run by Codey Morehouse -- in seven innings of pitching as he lowered his ERA to 1.65 as the Cougars lost 10-1. Saturday's UAB starter Ryan Woolley one-upped Napoleon as he tossed his first career complete game while leading UAB to the 6-1 win. The Cougars stormed off to a 6-0 lead after five innings on Sunday before the pitching and defense imploded, surrendering seven runs before the Cougars came back for the 8-7 win to close out the series.
"Their guys are doing a good job of throwing strikes," head coach Todd Whitting said after Saturday night's loss. "They're throwing strikes. They're not elevating the ball at all. And we are absolutely not adjusting. The sign of a good team, a good offensive club, is one that can adjust to a pitcher that's doing that to us.
John Royal UAB ace Dillon Napoleon shut down the Coogs on Friday night
"But you've got to tip your hat to them a little bit. They're pitching the ball really well. They're really minimizing -- they're doing a great job of minimizing their time on defense and maximizing it on offense."
Whitting, in his first year as the head guy, puts the problem with the team's inconsistency on himself and his staff.
"I think the thing that we're dealing with as a staff at this program is coaching failure -- coaching success is sometimes harder than failure," he said. "Because we win four games against ranked teams, all on the road, and all of sudden we lose our edge. And you have to be able to -- just like a bad loss you have to be able to put it in the rearview mirror -- a great win you have to be able to get rid of that, too. You have to build confidence off of it, but you also have to stay focused and get ready for the next opponent. And that's what -- and that starts with me. That's my fault that we haven't been able to make that adjustment."
That said, he has been making adjustments. In an attempt to solve defensive problems at third base, he started pitcher Codey Morehouse there on Friday and Sandy, then Travis Trial on Saturday. He's moved catcher M.P. Cokinos to first base on a full-time basis, and he's installed John Cannon as the full-time catcher. And he did a near complete turnover on Sunday, with infielder's moving to the outfield and third basemen to second. This means the offense clicked while the bullpen cratered and the defense continued to struggle.
But sometimes, there are only so many adjustments a team can make. The Cougars are installing a new system behind a young coach and a team with a small pitching staff. Consistency might be a bit too much to expect. The effort and the attitude are there every night. And the plan is in place. It just might take a time to come to fruition.
MISCELLANEOUS NOTES: The Cougars next four games are on the road. They return for a three-game series against UAB on April 21....Codey Morehouse's home run on Friday night was the first of his career.