May 21, 2002
A combination of solid pitching and timely hits allowed the University of Houston Cougars, the No. 1 seed in the annual Conference USA tournament and ranked No. 10 in the latest Baseball America poll, to sail to their ninth straight win in a 5-0 shutout victory over the Saint Louis Billikens on Tuesday (May 21) afternoon in the opening round of the 2002 C-USA Tournament in Kinston, N.C.
Houston (42-14) will face either Tulane or Southern Miss in the second round of the double-elimination tournament on Thursday, May 23, at 3:00 p.m. (CST) at Grainger Stadium.
The Cougars (42-12) struck for the game's first run in the first inning. With one out, Saint Louis starting pitcher Brad Wehrfritz surrendered back-to-back walks to Whatley and Chris Snyder, and after both advanced on a passed ball, Brett Cooley lifted a sacrifice fly to left to score Whatley.
Houston added another run in the second on a fielding error by Billiken first baseman Corey Lawson that allowed Sam Mitchell to score. After Jesse Crain led of the inning with a single, Sam Mitchell reached safely on a fielder's choice and advanced to third on a solid single to left by Hyung Cho. Cougar second baseman Cameron Blair, in only his second collegiate start, hit a blazer to the right-side of the infield which Lawson misplayed, allowing Blair to reach base and Mitchell to cross the plate.
Meanwhile, Houston starter Danny Zell (7-0, 2.19 ERA) shut down the Billiken offense, allowing just two singles through five solid innings.
Wehrfritz quieted the Cougar bats through the next three innings until the sixth. Thanos Papavasiliou reached safely on a fielder's choice and came around to score Houston's third run of the afternoon on a triple to right-center by Mitchell, who finished the game with two hits and two RBI.
Saint Louis threatened to break the shutout in the seventh when Lawson led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a groundout and deep fly out. But that would be the closest the Billikens would get to home plate the entire game.
Mitchell and Cho started the Cougars' two-run rally in the eighth with back-to-back one-out singles. Blair and Michael Bourn followed with singles, Blair knocking in Mitchell on an infield hit to third base and Bourn scoring Cho on a solid hit to center. With a 5-0 lead, Jesse Crain went to the mound for a perfect ninth, striking out the side on nine pitches to preserve the shutout.
Zell collected the win for Houston and improved to 7-0 overall on the year, while Saint Louis' Wehrfritz dropped to an even 4-4 after allowing three runs, two earned, on four hits in 6.2 innings of work.
Mitchell and Cho each collected two hits going 2-for-4 on the afternoon, while Mitchell led all players with two runs scored.