Cougars Win Two of Three from Southern Miss

We knew going into this weekend that UH was going to have to have to, at the very least, win two of three in the series against Southern Miss to even have a prayer of making the NCAA tournament field as an at-large team.

After a couple of white-knuckle games on Thursday and Friday, they got that done. The only disappointment has to be that they couldn't pull off the sweep that might have gotten them all the way back on to the bubble. Spoiler alert: we'll have more on that in the three down section.

To fully recap the weekend that was, let's get to three up and three down.

Three Up:

-          The offense seems to have completely broken out of the deep sleep they fell into during the month of April. All told over the entirety of the weekend, UH had 29 hits and it's not like it was just one or two players carrying the weight. In each of the three games, the Cougars got contributions up and down the lineup. If one guy faltered, there was always someone else behind him ready to pick him up.

-          Chase Wellbrock was absolutely nails in the first two games of the series. On Thursday night, with the Cougars leading 3-2, Southern Miss looked destined to even the score at some point. They had scored a run in the seventh and were threatening in the eighth. Wellbrock came in and shut down that rally. Then, he pitched a clean ninth. He didn't even let an error on Justin Montemayor in the inning break his rhythm. Friday night had a similar feel to it. At one point UH had a comfortable 7-3 lead, but a two-run homer in the eighth changed all that. Suddenly, USM had momentum. They carried that into the ninth inning, where they put a couple of runners on, but ultimately, Wellbrock shut the door again.

-          Over the last couple of weeks, I have lamented the fact that it looks like Austin Pruitt is wearing down a little bit. But after what we saw this past weekend, I think it's time that I stopped focusing on what he isn't doing and starting focusing on what he has managed to do. Sure, he hasn't been as dominant lately as he was early on in the season, but he's out there battling and finding ways to put his team in a position to win. On Friday night, he threw seven innings, giving up nine hits, three runs (two earned) with four strikeouts and one walk. It was clear early on that he wasn't going to plow through the USM lineup, but with his ability to throw strikes and his bulldog mentality, he didn't have to in order to be successful.

Three Down:

-          It was probably asking too much to expect the Cougars to sweep a USM team that was leading Conference USA coming into the series, but it sure is disappointing that they weren't able to do so after they took the first two games of the series and came almost all the way back from a three-run deficit in the ninth to lose by just a single run in the finale. As it is, UH set themselves up to get back into the serious bubble conversation with a nice run in the CUSA tournament, but a sweep against USM very well might have put them squarely into that conversation already.

-          The inconsistency of both Aaron Garza and Jake Lemoine in series finales late in the season has made for a tough decision in the upcoming conference tournament. Lemoine worked his way into the rotation after a hot start to the season, but as the season wore on, he struggled to give the Cougars quality starts. Aaron Garza, the midweek starter for much of the season, stepped in and had some success, but he was simply ineffective this past Saturday. With the way the pod system sets up in the tournament, you really have to plan on going 3-0 to get into the championship game. In order to do that, you are more than likely going to have to get three good starts. One of Garza or Lemoine is going to start a game in the tournament and the Cougars will need that person to come through.

-          In the game on Friday night, Landon Appling crashed into the outfield wall while chasing down a fly ball that ended up being a home run off the bat of USM's Blake Brown. At the time, Appling waved off the medical staff that was on the way out to check on him and he played the rest of the game. But on Saturday afternoon, Appling was out of the lineup thanks to some swelling in the knee that he had rammed into the wall. I'm hopeful that his absence from the lineup is temporary, as he had really started to heat up at the plate and his defense in center field is top-notch.


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