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.

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.

Cougars Drop Two to ECU

Houston's Sean Bretz delivers a pitch against ECU Saturday. Photo by Cougars Beat.
Houston’s Sean Bretz delivers a pitch against ECU Saturday.
Photo by Cougars Beat.

After being shutout 2-0 on Friday, ECU with their national ranking and potent offense came out firing on all cylinders in game one on Saturday at Schroeder Park . . . First baseman Spencer Brickhouse hit a two-run homerun in the top of the first, and he would follow that with a grand slam in the sixth . . . Brickhouse left the game after the sixth with 6 RBI . . . The Pirates offense pounded out fourteen hits and benefitted from ten walks on their way to scoring fifteen runs.

Friday night pitching hero Lael Lockhart Jr. hit an opposite-field solo homerun for the Cougars first run of the game in the fourth inning . . . Tyler Bielamowicz hit a two-out RBI double in the fifth to score Thomas . . . Jared Triolo’s seventh inning sacrifice fly RBI was the third and final run for the Cougars.

There was not much else in the way of offense for Houston on the afternoon as ECU starter Tyler Smith was in command in his five innings of work where he struck out five and allowed the only two runs the Cougars would score in the game . . . Jonathan Thomas was 2-for-2 in the early game, the only Cougar with more than one hit.

There was no rest for weary as the Cougars had the pleasure of facing ECU starter Jake Kuchmaner, one of the best pitchers in the nation, who also threw a perfect game less than a month ago . . . After a quick pop-up and a strike out in the bottom of the first, Joe Davis hit a monster homerun to left-center on the first pitch he saw from Kuchmaner . . . The 1-0 score would remain that way until the seventh.

Clay Aguilar got the start in game two for the Cougars, and on short rest after his Tuesday start at Lamar, Aguilar turned in his best performance of the year . . . ECU was held hitless until the fourth and they did not score a run until the seventh when designated hitter Jake Washer hit a homerun to left-center . . . The Pirates tacked on another run two batters later on a single which would also end Aguilar’s outing.

The Pirates pitching was too strong and aside from the Davis homerun in the first, part of a 2-for-3 night for Davis, Houston was completely shut down, only getting five other hits, two of those belonged to Rey Fuentes and Derrick Cherry who were both 2-for-4 in the second game . . . ECU pitchers also struck out fourteen Cougars.

The 3-1 loss saw the Cougars use only two pitchers, Aguilar and Devon Roedahl, who held the Pirates offense to seven hits and one walk while striking out ten . . . Not a bad performance by the pitching staff overall, one that would get a win on many nights.

The Cougars now have a couple of days off before they head up to Huntsville to face Sam Houston State for one game, the first game of a four game road trip. –

 

Newspaper column version of this recap

Cougars Shutout ECU 2-0

The Houston Cougars face ECU Friday at Schroeder Park. Photo courtesy of @5_Coogs via Twitter.
The Houston Cougars face ECU Friday at Schroeder Park.
Photo courtesy of @5_Coogs via Twitter.

A potent East Carolina University (ECU) Pirates team came to Schroeder Park Friday night to face the Houston Cougars . . . The Pirates were sporting a 22-6 overall record and a 6-0 conference record, along with conference leaders in various catergories, and a pitcher who threw a perfect game earlier this season . . . Oh, and they had won ten games in a row.

Friday’s starting pitcher for the Pirates was Jake Agnos who has many credits to his name, including conference leader in strikeouts . . . Agnos was mixing speeds well, but his command was off and the Cougars batters demonstrated some incredible patience, especially on some mid-seventies breaking balls, many of them well off the plate.

The Cougars got on the scoreboard first with a run in the bottom of the first inning when a Rey Fuentes ground ball to second resulted in a throwing error by second baseman Brady Lloyd and allowed Jared Triolo to score from third.

Jared Triolo hit a one out homerun to left-center in the third inning to put the Cougars up 2-0.

Rey Fuentes made an outstanding defensive play to end the fourth when he went diving head first into foul territory down the left field line on a high fly ball by right fielder Alec Burleson . . . The ball kept drifting away from fair territory and toward the Cougars bullpen . . . Rey went diving, caught the ball, with his hair falling all over the place as he lost his cap, he fired the ball to Jared Triolo who then relayed the ball to second to get the runner who had been on second and was moving toward third on the fly ball . . . It was an amazing play by Fuentes.

Kyle Lovelace also deserves an honorable mention for his defensive work . . . Lovelace got two different runners trying to steal, one ended the third inning and on the other the throw was so early that Brad Burckel had to make sure to hold the glove and wait for the runner, rather than attempting to swipe at the sliding runner.

Lockhart held ECU hitless until the fifth, when second baseman Brady Lloyd reached base on an infield single . . . Lockhart was sharp all night, and ECU batters were hitting right into the Cougars defense, this also allowed Lockhart to be very efficient and maintain a low pitch count.

ECU’s Jake Agnos was quite good on Friday as well, just not quite as good as Lockhart. Agnos went 5 2/3 innings allowing two runs on six hits while also striking out eight . . . Agnos got his pitch count up early and when he exited in the sixth he had thrown 113 pitches.

Alec Burleson came to Houston leading the conference in batting average and went 0-for-4 on the night in the cleanup spot.

With two outs in the eighth, Lael Lockhart gave way to Fred Villarreal for the final out of the inning, which Villarreal got on a ground ball to Kobe Hyland . . . Fred returned to the mound for the ninth when things got interesting . . . A leadoff double was followed by a groundout that moved the runner to third . . . Then a walk put the possible tying run on first and brought the possible go-ahead run at the plate . . . But Villarreal continued to work and throw strikes, he got catcher Jake Washer to strikeout swinging before getting a weak grounder back to the mound for the final out to secure the 2-0 shutout.

The win was Lael Lockhart’s second on the year, and the save by Villarreal was his seventh, and the shutout was the first time this season the Pirates were shutout.

The threat of bad weather on Sunday has changed the Saturday schedule . . . The teams will play a double-header at Schroeder Park with the first game starting at 1pm, and the second game beginning about 45 minutes after the first game ends. –

 

Newspaper column version of this recap