Houston Baseball begins the conference schedule tonight at home vs. Wichita State. It’s the second-straight year that the teams have met in the conference opener (it would have been three if not for the 2020 COVID cancelation). It’s also the second-straight year they’ve opened the league schedule on April 1 in Houston.
UH is much better in 2022 than in 2021: the Coogs were 12-11 heading into AAC play last year and are now 17-8. Last year, Houston was 1-6 vs. RPI Top-100 teams and is 5-5 now at this point in the season. That’s encouraging. The offensive numbers have improved from a year ago (charts are based on 25 games this year and 23 games in 2021):
But in 2021, the Coogs collapsed in AAC play. While the pitching was below average in the league, UH’s hitting was the glaring weakness. UH averaged 3.0 runs per game, by far the worst in the eight-team conference, and over a run and a half less 7th-best Memphis.
UH was last in hits per game, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases, slugging, and on-base percentage in conference-only games in 2021. With clear differences in schedules, going into conference play in 2022, UH leads the conference in batting average and hits.
Catcher Anthony Tulimero, a transfer from Kansas, is an offensive star and Brandon Uhse anchors the team in the leadoff spot. If Ryan Hernandez can start hitting for more power, the top half of the line-up could be potent.
Jaycob Deese, Nathan Medrano, and Derrick Cherry will get starts against Wichita on the mound. Medrano is the only pitcher on the roster to start a game every weekend this year. Cherry is the wildcard: in 2022, he’s started just twice, in Tuesday games at McNeese and at Sam Houston State. SHSU is the only game he’s thrown more 4.0 IP in his UH career (35 appearances).
Kyle Lacalameto is there if any of the three starters should falter. He’s pitched well lately – just two runs given up in his last 15.1 innings (.78 WHIP and 19 Ks in that stretch). Ben Sears, a starter in 2021, has reinvented himself as an excellent long reliever and has five saves on the season (and a .39 ERA). Sears’ 19/1 K/BB ratio is fourth-best nationally.
I expect Houston Baseball to compete for an AAC title this season in a down year for the league. However, the American is likely a one-bid league at this point, and UH has no future games against teams currently in the top 65 of the RPI. The Cougars could play themselves into an at-large bid, but it would likely take 20+ AAC wins (24 game schedule) and a couple of wins in the conference tournament. UH is currently #100 in the NCAA’s official RPI.