Houston Baseball This Week: Cougars Open New Season At Enron Field
The University of Houston baseball team (0-0) opens its 2001 season on Friday, February 2, as a participant in the inaugural Astros College Classic Tournament to be held downtown at Enron Field, the fabulous home of Major League Baseball's Houston Astros. The Cougars will play three games at Enron as part of a six-team, college tournament featuring former members of the old Southwest Conference including Baylor, Rice, Texas, TCU and Texas Tech.
UH will face No. 17 ranked Baylor at 3:00 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2. Houston then meets No. 20 ranked Texas at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday (Feb. 3) and Texas Tech at noon on Sunday.
UH Broadcast Info: Tune Into The World-Wide Web
All Cougar home games will be broadcast live around the world on the internet by the Texas Sports Radio Network. On game day just log on to the Cougar website at UHCougars.com and follow the automatic cues to a live audio stream. Announcers Lynn Michaels and John Bard will call the home action all season long. Selected road games against Rice and Texas A&M have also been tabbed for live internet broadcasts.
Quick On Houston: New Look Squad In 2001
Houston welcomes back nine returning lettermen from last season's team that won a school-record 48 games and came within one run of reaching the College World Series. A total of 18 newcomers, including 13 true freshmen, make up Houston's 28-man roster in 2001. The youthful, new-look Cougars have two seniors and one starting position player from 2000.
Deja V: UH Has Been Here Before
Four years ago University of Houston Head Baseball Coach Rayner Noble debuted a completely new UH team, complete with a talented and rather sizable recruiting class. It's definitely a case of deja v in 2001.
Many of the current Cougars are fresh from the high school ranks, but the last time Houston had this many players it turned into a thrilling four years - to the tune of three NCAA Regionals appearances with one Regional Championship, two Conference USA regular season and two C-USA Tournament Championships. The youthful 1997 team finished with 40 wins, including a conference tournament title and NCAA bid in its first season in C-USA.
Probable Pitchers This Week: Coogs Utilize Experience
Senior left-hander Nick Torina has been tabbed as Houston's opening day pitcher for Friday's game against Baylor. It will be the sixth start for the former standout from South Houston High School. Sophomore right-hander Bryan Harris and true freshman Gene Flores will start against Texas and Texas Tech, respectively. Harris worked his way into three starts as a freshman last year.
UH probables are as follows...
Feb. 2: Torina (Sr., LHP, Houston, Texas)
1-0, 3.38, 37.1 IP, 32 K in 2000
Feb. 3: Harris (So., RHP, Pearland, Texas)
2-1, 6.53, 20.2 IP, 14 K in 2000
Feb. 4: Flores (Fr., RHP, Corpus Christi, Texas)
Head Coach Rayner Noble: Former All-American Starts 7th Season at UH
It didn't take long for Houston head baseball coach Rayner Noble to turn his alma mater into one of the nation's premiere programs. Now starting his seventh season at the Houston helm, Noble has already won two C-USA regular season championships and a pair of conference tournament titles. His teams have earned three NCAA regional bids and finally, national respect as an NCAA regional host in back-to-back years. After winning the C-USA regular season championship for a second-straight year in 2000, the league's head coaches and media members selected him as the Conference USA Coach of the Year for a second consecutive season.
Noble (217-147, .596) played for the Cougars from 1980-83 and was named All-America as a pitcher/outfielder his senior year. After playing professionally for five years in the Houston Astros organization, he served as an assistant coach at Rice University from 1991-93 and at UH from 1987-90.
He compiled a 26-29 record in his coaching debut in 1995 and a winning 29-28 record in 1996, marking the Cougars' highest finish in the old Southwest Conference in five years. In 1997 with a team comprised primarily of his own players, Noble's squad earned an automatic NCAA Regional bid by winning the Conference USA Tournament championship in the school's first year in the league. He led a young Cougar squad to a second-place finish in the 1998 C-USA standings. A year later UH won its first conference title in 39 years under his direction. He then won both the C-USA regular season and tournament titles in 2000. His all-time C-USA record is 81-25 (.764).
A Closer Look: Wins Particularly High The Last Four Years
Rayner Noble reached the 200-win plateau on April 28 last season with a 4-0 shutout at Saint Louis. Now with 217 wins, he ranks as the fourth-winningest coach in school history. He owns a .596 career win percentage but a more accurate gauge for Noble might be how the Cougars have played in more recent years. Since 1997 when his UH teams were finally comprised of mostly the players that he recruited, Noble's overall record has been 162-90. That win percentage of .643 would rate as the best in school history. Another way to think the .643 win percentage is that it is the equivalent of a major league team winning 104 games in one season.
Noble Named Sportsman Of The Year: RBI Foundation Tabs UH Skipper
Rayner Noble and Houston Astros pitcher Scott Elarton were named the 2001 Sportsmen of the Year by the R.B.I. Foundation of Houston at the organization's annual awards dinner on Friday, January 27, in Houston.
Noble was selected as one of the Sportsmen of the Year after an exemplary season on and off the field. He led UH to a stunning 2000 season, but his squad also achieved success in the classroom, where a 25-player roster recorded a composite 2.85 grade point average last fall.
Since its founding in 1992, the city of Houston's own Recycled Baseball Items Foundation (R.B.I.) uniquely donates baseball equipment, free of charge, to community organizations that work with inner-city youth. The non-profit organization has presented a positive and constructive alternative for area youth to choose over the problems of crime and drugs. The foundation's previous Sportsmen of the Year honorees include Art Howe, Larry Dierker and Bob Watson as well as former Cougars Mickey Herskowitz and Doug Drabek.
Houston Astros pitcher Scott Elarton, who led the team with 17 major league wins, was also a co-honoree with Noble. There was also special recognition for the Bellaire, Texas, Little League team that won the United States championship and played for the Little League world championship in Williamsport, Pa., last summer. Astros Hall of Fame broadcaster Milo Hamilton served as the dinner's Master of Ceremony.
As part of the evenings festivities, Noble and Elarton were both roasted before the awards presentation. Sterling Bank Vice President and former major leaguer Norm Miller, who also served as a volunteer staff member for Cougar baseball last season, quipped from the roasting podium that "the first time anyone had mentioned the words Rayner Noble I thought they were talking about the mountain up in the state of Washington."
Upon accepting the award Noble thanked the RBI Foundation and praised the organization for its valuable efforts with the city's young people. He gave special thanks to God, his wife Lisa and their two children, Hannah and Kelsey, his Cougar team and the support staff of the UH Athletics Department.
The Country's Toughest Schedule?: Dare To Compare
In what has become a regular practice under Rayner Noble, Houston will again play one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Cougars are lined up to play 24 games against eight teams that are ranked among the preseason Top 25. Three other 2001 opponents (Arizona, Texas A&M and Texas Tech) are receiving votes for the Top 25. Other quality programs like San Diego State and Southwest Texas State are the defending champions of their respective conferences. A list of tough games and opponents appears at the right, but what's not on the list is that Houston also plays 12 conference road games this year.
Welcome Back Cougar Alumni: Varsity Rallies For 3-3 Draw Over UH Exes
The Cougar baseball team is every bit as young as it is new, but UH showed some poise in rallying for a 3-3 tie in a game against some former Houston players in the program's annual varsity-alumni game Saturday (Jan. 27) at Cougar Field.
Facing a talented alumni lineup that featured eight former players currently active in professional baseball, the 2001 varsity squad overcame a 3-0 deficit to lodge a 3-3 tie in the seven-inning exhibition.
Trailing 3-0, the Cougar varsity got one run back in the fourth when true freshman Sam Mitchell scored on a double to left by Chris Klosterman. The varsity then tied the game with a pair of runs in the fifth off former all-American and Los Angeles Dodger prospect Shane Nance. Freshman shortstop Hyung Cho led off with a double and then scored on a double by Sean Allen. After a fielder's choice, Allen scored on a ground out by freshman Brad Sullivan.
Cougar head coach Rayner Noble used four pitchers in the game. Senior left-hander Nick Torina looked sharp, holding the alumni to one hit in 2.0 innings of work. Freshmen Gene Flores and Jared Grein combined for 3.0 shutout innings, highlighted by Flores striking out current major leaguer Scott Sheldon (Texas Rangers) looking in the fifth.
Series History: Records vs. Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech
In Houston's 128 meetings with Baylor, the Bears lead the all-time series 75-53. The Cougars have won each of the last two meetings of a home and away set from last year. The 13-2 win at Cougar Field (April 18) was UH's first over the Bears in the city of Houston since 1997. Perhaps the most memorable game of the 50-year old series was on Feb. 22 of 1999, when Baylor posted 8-2 win in an NCAA record-tying 22-inning marathon. A total of five NCAA single-game records were set and three more were tied on that night. There also were a host of game statistics that rank among the top performances in NCAA history.
In 113 games since the first meeting between Houston and Texas in 1958, the Longhorns have built a commanding 84-27-2 lead in the all-time series. Texas won three of four from UH last season including the most-recent meeting, an 8-7 decision at Cougar Field (Feb. 29) in the lone game played in Houston. One of the most memorable series for Houston occurred in 1983, when, thanks to the Cougars' 1-2 starting pitching punch of All-American Rayner Noble and future Cy Young Award winner Doug Drabek, UH beat Texas twice at Disch-Falk Field.
Houston and the Red Raiders of Texas Tech have met a total of 75 times since the series started in 1973, the year the Cougars joined the Southwest Conference for baseball. The Cougars lead the series 38-37. The teams last met in the first round of the SWC Tournament in 1996, where the Red Raiders claimed an 11-5 win in Lubbock. UH snapped Tech's 28-game home win-streak that same year with a 5-1 regular-season win. In three seasons between 1994 and 1996, Texas Tech won 10 of 12 games in the series. The Cougars went 3-7 vs. the Big 12 a year ago.
Nick After Noon: Torina Works Way Into Starting Assignments
The season opener will mark only the sixth career start for UH senior Nick Torina, but the Cougars have fared well when the lefthander has had that assignment. The team has gone on to win four of his five starts and he has performed well individually in the role. In his previous start (May 19) he had only a few moments notice prior to taking the mound at the C-USA Tournament.
In an elimination game at the tournament Houston jumped out to a big first inning lead and Rayner Noble rationalized that he could save his scheduled starter, Shane Nance, for the next game as UH was clearly in control to play another day. He just needed a last minute replacement pitcher to hold the lead and work as many innings as possible. It wasn't much of a gamble because Noble knew he had Nick Torina.
While the top of the first inning was going still going on, Torina threw warm-up tosses on the side and took the mound right after the top of the first ended. He proceeded to hold South Florida to two runs on six hits while working a career-long 5.1 innings.
Houston won the game and went on to win the C-USA Tournament. In his other start he held NCAA Tournament bound Oklahoma to three hits for 4.0 innings, but two of the hits and one of the runs allowed were after a 45-minute rain delay in cold April temperatures.
In 1999 Torina made his first collegiate start in possibly one of the toughest environments in the nation, Olsen Field in College Station against No. 3 ranked Texas A&M. Like a veteran, Torina struck out the A&M's leadoff hitter then proceeded to hold the Aggies to just two runs on five hits in a season-long 4.0 innings of work.
In addition to a perfect 2-0 career record and 4.50 ERA, Torina has averaged 8.0 strikeouts with 8.6 hits and 4.3 walks per 9.0 innings for his collegiate career.
The Other Half Of The Battery: Chris Snyder Moves To Top Backstop Spot
One of Houston's most dependable leaders last year, offensively, defensively and in the clubhouse, was catcher Jarrod Bitter. With a stellar career the All-American caught the eye of Major League Baseball and was drafted after his junior year. It could have been one of the biggest holes to fill on the 2001 Houston team and yet, after fall practice, it looked again to be one of the most dependable.
Sophomore Chris Snyder easily locked up the starting backstop duties after a solid fall as well as a successful debut in Division I baseball last season. As an understudy to Bitter a year ago Snyder made 16 starts, one of which was the championship game of the C-USA Tournament. He hit .347 and was error-free as a starter. Overall the team was 11-4 with Snyder working behind the plate.
In it's annual preview, Baseball America Magazine listed Snyder as the "best catcher in the league" as well as the catcher with the "best defensive skills." He is one of the few sophomores to make the preseason watch list for the prestigious Smith Award, an annual honor recognizing the top college baseball player in the country.
Take It To The "Hoop": Matt Hooper To Lead The Bullpen
Last year Matt Hooper just missed ranking among the NCAA leaders in ERA (1.82) because he was just shy of the minimum number of innings to qualify. That won't be the case this year. Hooper is a veteran who is slated for plenty of work and to be a leader from the bullpen even if its from a variety of different roles. The junior from Nacogdoches hopes to continue the grove he was in at the end of last year. From March 28 to the end of the season he maintained a 1.00 ERA with steady "holds" from the pen. Here's "Hoop's" numbers from the second half of last year.
On Deck: After Astros Classic The Cougars Head West For The Moores' Cup
When the Cougars complete their weekend action at the Astros Classic, the team will head west for a three-game weekend road series at San Diego State Friday through Sunday, Feb. 9-11. The winner of the Houston-San Diego State series will earn possession of the prestigious Moores Cup, a trophy commissioned by Cougar alum and owner of the San Diego Padres, John Moores. After San Diego State claimed the inaugural Moores Cup in 1998, Houston won the Cup back in 1999. First pitch Friday from Tony Gwynn Stadium in San Diego will be at 6:00 p.m. (Pacific Time).