TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For the second straight game, pitching proved to be the difference as No. 20 Houston Baseball clinched the weekend series victory at No. 23 Alabama with a 3-2 Saturday win as starter Seth Romero fanned a career-high 11 and reliever Nick Hernandez was lights out to earn his second consecutive save.
With the win, the Cougars improved to 8-5 on the season and have now won four straight games over Big 12 and SEC opponents. Alabama fell to 10-4 on the year with the loss. Houston also won its third weekend series (Villanova, Baylor, Alabama) in as many tries this season.
The Cougars and Crimson Tide will wrap up the three-game series at 1 p.m. Sunday. Following the weekend series, Houston will travel to Beaumont, Texas to take on Lamar at 6 p.m. Tuesday before returning home to begin a nine-game home stand, starting with Texas Southern at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Darryl & Lori Schroeder Park.
Houston starting pitching has been quite impressive this weekend as Romero followed up a career-night from junior Andrew Lantrip following Friday's win. Romero (6.0,5,2,2,2,11), in just his second start of 2016, fanned a career-high 11 hitters and allowed just two runs on six hits and two walks in the 6.0-inning gem.
With that effort, Romero moved to 2-0 on the year and increased his strikeout total to 19 in just 14.0 innings of work.
Hernandez (1.2,1,0,0,0,1) was the key component late in Saturday's win for Houston as the right-hander entered the eighth inning with bases loaded and one out and the Cougars leading 3-2. He managed to keep Alabama off the board with a key ground out and pop out, both to freshman Joe Davis at first base.
His effort led to a sharp ninth inning, which he later registered for a save -- his second in as many games played this weekend and third on the year, following a 1.2 inning effort out of the bullpen, allowing just one hit with one strikeout.
Offensively, Houston out hit Alabama, 9-7 and two Cougars notched multi-hit games. Leading the way was sophomore Connor Wong -- who finished the day, 2-for-5 with a run scored and RBI, while senior Justin Montemayor went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Scoring runs for Houston were Wong, senior Jacob Campbell (1x4, R) and sophomore Connor Hollis (1x3, R). Adding hits in the win were Davis, who doubled, junior Jose Reyes and senior Michael Pyeatt who each singled.
With two outs in the top of the third inning, Wong and Pyeatt reached on back-to-back singles and Davis loaded the bases after being hit by a pitch. The inning would continue as Montemayor found the only hole on the field, taking a pitch down the left field line for an RBI-single, plating Wong to put Houston up 1-0.
The Cougars' two-out rally fell short to just one run as Alabama's second baseman made an impressive catch in shallow right center to save a few Cougar runs, keeping the score at a 1-0 Houston advantage moving into the latter half of the frame.
With Wong's two-out single in the third, the Pearland, Texas native has now reached base in all 13 games this season and is now riding a 10-game hit streak.
Alabama looked to have some momentum as Connor Short reached on a one-out double and took third on a wild pitch by Romero, but the Preseason All-American and reigning American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year fanned the final two hitters to strand the runner at third and keep the Cougars up 1-0.
Leading 1-0, the Cougars extended their lead with a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Campbell opened the frame with a leadoff single into right field and moved to second base on a sac bunt by senior Robert Grilli.
With one out in the inning, Hollis walked and both Campbell and Hollis put pressure on Alabama with a double steal, which forced an errant throw into left field to score Campbell, putting Houston up 2-0 early.
After a groundout and Hollis moving to third, Wong would continue his hot-hitting, plating Hollis with an RBI-single up the middle to make it 3-0 Houston.
Romero continued his strikeout dominance, striking out the side in the latter half of the fourth, sending his offense back to bat with a three-run lead. He totaled nine strikeouts through 4.0 complete innings.
Alabama would use a one-out double, and RBI-single and a wild pitch to score a pair of runs in the fifth inning, trimming Houston's lead to one at 3-2.
Romero worked around a few late-game jams, but managed to keep the Crimson Tide off the board and exit the game with a 3-2 lead. He would hand the ball over to junior Bubba Maxwell (1.1,1,0,0,1) who would pitch the seventh and into the eighth inning -- allowing just one hit with one strikeout in 1.1 innings of work.
Hernandez took over for Maxwell in the eighth and inherit a bases-loaded jam with one out, but was able to escape the mess, keeping Alabama off the board with a groundout and pop out, both to Davis at first base. He entered the ninth and worked around a 2-out single for the save.
Alabama starter Jake Walters (5.0,6,3,2,1,6) suffered the loss to the Cougars, allowing two earned runs on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts to fall to 1-2 on the year.
Head Coach Todd Whitting
On Saturday's win at Alabama
"Hard-fought win today. I thought [Seth] Romero pitched really well and did his deal and kept us in the game. We took advantage of a couple of opportunities to score a couple of runs and those ended up being the difference. [Nick] Hernandez was lights out from the bullpen, which is good to see as we try to solidify the back end of our bullpen. I'm really excited to see what happens tomorrow."
On the series victory on the road
"To come over here and get a series win against a team like Alabama is big for us. That will be huge for our resume down the road when it comes to NCAA Tournament play, so hopefully we can finish this thing off and get us one more before we get out of town tomorrow. We just have to keep playing."
Sophomore starter Seth Romero
On how he felt in today's win
"I felt pretty good out there. It was sprinkling out there most of the game, so the ball was a little wet and I struggled with control there early, but got comfortable and relied on my slider, which was working very well for me. The fastball looked good and I'm just glad we came out and got the win."
On the defense behind him
"Defense played great once again. The ball was moving fast and skipping on the wet surface, but our defense seemed to handle it well today and I'm proud of them."
On the offense putting up runs early for him
"It's a great feeling when your offense puts up runs for you early. As a pitcher, you are able to settle down, feel comfortable and attack the strike zone more."
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