Houston’s Season Ends in Clearwater in Championship Final

Maddux Miller pitches against ECU in Clearwater on Sunday (Photo credit: American Athletic Conference/Mary Holt)

The Houston Cougars saw their season come to end on Sunday afternoon in Clearwater as they fell 6-1 to East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference Championship final.

While East Carolina was able to jump out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, the Cougars found no such luck with the Pirates pitching staff.

Freshman Cameron Nickens was 3-for-3 on Sunday afternoon and drove in the only Cougars run on a single in the top of the seventh inning . . . Nickens accounted for half of the Cougars six base hits in the contest.

Maddux Miller pitched 2 2/3 innings out of the bullpen at a critical point in the game and he was outstanding, striking out five Pirates batters . . . Ben Sears followed Miller and was equally great, also over 2 2/3 innings where he did not allow a hit and struck out three batters.

Where Houston saw its season end on the second day of the AAC Championship in each of their last two appearances, the Cougars made it to the final game in 2022 and the very young Cougars team experienced what it takes to play big time, competitive baseball.

Ryan Hernandez played his final game as a Houston Cougar on Sunday, and just as he has been the epitome of class and hard work during his three years with the program, he was just as classy and prideful in his postgame comments.

“I’m very proud of this team,” Hernandez said. “I love being a Houston Cougar. When I first committed here, I committed as soon as I got the opportunity to commit here.”

Head coach Todd Whitting was still hopeful and positive about both the season and the future after the loss Sunday.

“This is still one of my favorite teams I’ve ever had,” Whitting said. “Coming off a tough year last year, just the unbelievable commitments to the program, to the University of Houston, and to what we were trying to do.”

“We got a couple of holes to fill going in to next year, I feel good about it. We start three freshmen every day, we got a ton of guys coming back. The future is bright at the University of Houston,” Whitting said.

Reflecting on some of the great times during his career at Houston, Hernandez said, “I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had a great time here and I’m really appreciative of that.”

Hernandez was selected to the All-Tournament Team after Sunday’s game, along with teammates Jose Torrealba, Santiago Garcia, and Anthony Tulimero.

The Cougars finish the season 37-24. The 2022 offseason begins now.

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Houston Loses to East Carolina, Clinches Third Spot in AAC

Houston faced East Carolina in Greenville, NC on Saturday night

Houston lost 5-3 to East Carolina on Saturday night, and while the Cougars now know their place in next week’s American Athletic Conference tournament in Clearwater, they do not know who their first opponent will be once they get there.

The Pirates plated a pair of runs in each of the first two innings on Saturday and held a 4-0 lead through four innings.

Anthony Tulimero (2-for-4) led off the top of the fifth inning with a single that squeezed between the shortstop and third baseman and rolled into left field . . . One out later, Ryan Hernandez hit his twelfth home run of the season over the wall in right-center field to cut the East Carolina lead in half, 4-2.

Zach Arnold (2-for-4) added a one-out RBI single in the top of the sixth inning, driving in Samuel Tormos who had reached on a throwing error, and Houston only trailed 4-3.

The Cougars got no closer than that, with the Pirates adding a run in the eighth inning and taking a 5-3 lead, which would be the final score . . . The Cougars got in some work for six pitchers in the game, in the next-to-last preparation before play begins in Clearwater on Tuesday . . . The Houston offense only collected five hits on Saturday, by just three players.

A loss by UCF earlier on Saturday opened up an opportunity for the Cougars to make things more interesting if they could win their final two games, but with the loss to East Carolina, Houston clinched the third spot in the standings as they wait to find out who they will face in their first game in Clearwater, though it will be a contest between either Memphis or Wichita State in the late game on Tuesday night.

Houston and East Carolina close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon with a 12 noon start time . . . Both teams will head to Clearwater after the series to prepare for the conference tournament which begins on Tuesday morning . . . The Cougars have not named a Saturday starter at this point.

Houston Loses Opener in Greenville, Conference Seed Still Unknown

Brandon Uhse takes a lead off first base against East Carolina on Thursday

The Houston Cougars could not stop their current slide as they fell to East Carolina 8-4 in Greenville, North Carolina on Thursday night.

Houston opened its final weekend of the regular season with the conference opponent a day earlier than is typical due to the fact that the American Athletic Conference tournament begins in Clearwater, Florida on Tuesday morning.

Ian McMillan led off the top of the third inning with a single just over a stretched out second baseman into shallow right-center . . . Malachi Lott added an infield single on a high bouncer beyond the reach of the Pirates first baseman and by the time a throw was ready to be made, no one was at first base to receive the throw as Lott sped his way down the line . . . Brandon Burckel put down a textbook sacrifice bunt that drew in the third baseman, who was just able to get Burckel at first . . . Brandon Uhse then delivered a one out single into left-center to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead.

Zach Arnold then drove a 2-2 pitch off a light pole beyond the left field wall for a two-run home run and a 4-1 lead . . . The home run forced the Pirates to their bullpen in the top of the third with just one out.

That was the end of the scoring for the Cougars on this night as the Pirates would tag Houston pitching for seven runs over the final two-thirds of the game to eventually take the 8-4 victory.

UCF, which started the night a game ahead of Houston in conference play, also lost on Thursday night, so the Cougars could possibly get the two-seed, but are guaranteed no worse than the three-seed.

The Cougars (34-20, 13-9 AAC) and the Pirates face each other again on Friday in Greenville . . . Houston has not announced a starting pitcher as of yet . . . Game time is scheduled for 5:30pm.