Feb. 9, 2008
HOUSTON - With an award-winning group of veterans and one of the most talented signing classes in school history, the University of Houston baseball team is looking to return to the NCAA postseason in 2008.
A year after finishing fourth in a competitive Conference USA, the Cougars are counting on 16 letterwinners - including six starters - and 16 newcomers for an NCAA Regional berth this season.
"We are going to have to be very smart offensively. We are going to have to put the ball in play. We need to force the action against the defense." Noble said. "We have a few guys that have some pop, but not to the extent where we are going to rely on the three-run homer."
With the official starting date pushed back for all NCAA teams, the Cougars were able to enjoy extra practice time during the fall season. In only a short time, Noble and his coaching staff were impressed with what they saw.
"I like what we have and am looking forward to seeing these guys in action," said the Cougar skipper, who enters his 15th season at the UH helm. "They are a hard-working crew and pretty focused."
Under new NCAA rules, the Cougars won't open the 2008 season until Feb. 22, the program's latest Opening Day since 1982. Though the start has been pushed back, the end of the season remains the same, meaning the Cougars will play more midweek games in 2008.
Despite the tweaks to the schedule, Noble said that he and his coaches are ready to make the adjustment.
"You have to manage your pitchers much better, and we are prepared to do that," Noble said.
Nine pitchers return from 2007 with sophomore southpaw Wes Musick leading the way. A year ago, Musick emerged as the ace of the Cougar staff and wasted little time in establishing himself as one of the premier pitchers in Conference USA.
The Lufkin native topped all Cougar hurlers and ranked among the league individual leaders with a 6-5 record, 73 strikeouts and a 3.00 ERA in 93.0 innings of work.
Musick twice struck out 10 batters in a game and was honored as the C-USA Pitcher of the Week after accomplishing that feat for the second time during a 3-0 win at C-USA rival UCF.
For his impressive performance throughout the season, he was named to the All-Conference USA First Team and was a member of three Freshmen All-America squads.
Sophomore righthander John Touchton was a regular in the Cougars' weekend pitching rotation during the first half of the C-USA season and should challenge for a place there again in 2008.
Last season, the Houston native posted a 5-6 record with 27 strikeouts and a 7.04 ERA in 53.2 innings, the fourth-highest total by any Cougar hurler. Sophomore southpaw Donnie Joseph emerged in 2007 as the Cougars' regular midweek starter.
The Buda native threw to a 1-1 record with 23 strikeouts and a 6.42 ERA in 54.2 innings, the third-highest total by a Cougar pitcher.
Junior righthander Chris Wright was another regular out of the bullpen a year ago and should be a leader there again. The Houston native finished with a 3-2 record, 28 strikeouts and a 5.98 ERA in 40.2 innings. Wright showed flashes of brilliance in 2007 and assisted in a team-best three shutouts.
Senior righthander Bryan Tully is the latest in a long line of talented two-way players in the Cougar program. In addition to his regular duties in the outfield, Tully also posted a 2-2 record with 16 strikeouts and a 6.26 ERA in 23.0 innings.
He did a little of everything during the Cougars' 12-10 win over Texas-San Antonio at the Southwest Diamond Classic on Feb. 22. After blasting a home run and picking up the save from the mound, he joined Shane Buteaux and current Minnesota Twin reliever Jesse Crain as the only players in school history to accomplish both feats in the same game.
Fans can expect more of the same from Tully during the 2008 campaign.
"Much of how we will do pitching depends on the recovery of Ricky Hargrove and Dereck Cloeren," Noble said. "Those two guys could really add some special things to the pitching staff, which looks good even without them."
The Cougars will be boosted by the return of Hargrove, who missed the entire 2007 season following successful shoulder surgery.
In 2006, Hargrove emerged as a steady No. 2 starter for the Cougars, posting an 8-6 record with 82 strikeouts and a 3.31 ERA in 100.2 innings of work.
Becoming only the 14th player in school history to throw more than 100.0 innings in a single season, Hargrove helped lead the Cougars to the NCAA Norman Regional and a spot in the final Top 25 national rankings of all five polls.
Cloeren made only two relief appearances early in the season before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. A talented transfer from Northwestern State, the Orange native underwent successful surgery in the spring and should be at 100 percent by Opening Day.
"Both (Hargrove and Cloeren) could move into a starting situation if they are well," Noble said.
Junior southpaw Jimmy Raviele tied with Laird for the team lead with 25 appearances in 2007 and should provide considerable depth from the left side.
The Richmond native finished with a 0-1 record, 6.47 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 32.0 innings of relief.
Righthander Barry Laird appeared in a team-best 25 games, posting a 2-1 record with 27 strikeouts and a 5.64 ERA during that time.
The Baytown native also collected a pair of saves at C-USA rival Tulane and against UTSA in back-to-back outings.
However, Laird is expected to sit out the entire 2008 season following shoulder surgery during the offseason.
Junior David McClain joins the team in 2008 but is expected to sit out following shoulder surgery in the off-season
Junior Morgan Floyd is no stranger to the UH Athletics Department after lettering for two seasons as a member of the UH track and field team as a decathlete. For the Cougar Baseball team, he is expected to provide depth from the left side.
The Cougars return two young letterwinners from a year ago. Sophomore Austin Goolsby saw the most action in 2007, competing in 19 games with eight starts.
During that time, the Coppell native posted a .250 batting average with two doubles and four RBIs. A talented defensive catcher, Goolsby benefited from a year of experience and will challenge for the starting spot.
Sophomore Chris Wallace competed in only 13 games a year ago, making 13 starts. The Cypress native has impressed coaches and teammates with his power at the plate and also could see playing time at first base or as the DH.
Lormand made an impressive debut during his first collegiate season in 2007 and should build on that foundation this season.
A year ago, Lormand established himself as one of the most potent leadoff hitters in Conference USA. The Waco native finished with a .298 batting average four home runs and 39 RBIs.
After struggling in the field at shortstop some at the beginning of the season, Lormand moved to second base and regrouped before returning to his original position late in the season.
One of only three players to start all 56 games, Lormand was honored as the C-USA Hitter of the Week after scoring at least two runs, hitting safely in and knocking in at least one run in all three games at C-USA rival Memphis.
He was the epitome of a leadoff hitter against the Tigers, reaching base safely and eventually scoring in the first inning of all three games to help set the tone for the entire series.
Once he reaches base, Lormand remains a nuisance to opposing pitchers. He swiped a team-best 23 stolen bases - nearly doubling his closest competitor on the team - and has stolen his last 19 attempts, the third-longest streak in school history.
Cesario emerged in 2007 as one of the Cougars' and C-USA's most consistent offensive performers. The Metairie, La., native should see considerable playing time at first base or third base in 2008.
After batting 2-for-3 during the Cougars' season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin, the Metairie, La., native was never out of the team lead in batting average and never saw his batting average dip below .346 for the rest of the season .
He finished the year with a .352 batting average, 13 doubles, three home runs and 35 RBIs. He was one of UH's two members on the All-Conference USA First Team and collected the first-ever C-USA Newcomer of the Year award as well.He was one of only three players to start all 56 games a year ago.
Bryan Pounds returns for his senior season as one of only four 3-year letterwinners on the team. A year ago, Pounds finished with a .222 batting average, two home runs and 28 RBIs.
However, the Houston native was a steady defensive performer for the Cougars, seeing time at second base, third base and shortstop.
Pounds should see plenty of playing time in 2008 as a member of the Cougar infield for the fourth straight season.
The Cougars also will be boosted by the return of senior Jake Stewart. During the Cougars' 2007 season-opening win against Stephen F. Austin, Stewart blasted the first grand slam of his career but later aggravated a previous shoulder injury in that game.
Despite gritting it out for the next three games, Stewart was unable to continue and missed the remaining 52 games.
In 2006, Stewart was a regular performer for the Cougars in center field, compiling a .321 batting average with seven home runs - mostly from the leadoff spot - 33 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
A member of the 2006 C-USA All-Tournament Team, Stewart is expected to see the bulk of his playing time in left field but will remain a fixture near the top of the Cougar lineup.
Tully is one of only four 3-year letterwinners on the 2008 team and should emerge as a team leader A year ago, Tully struggled at times at the plate, finishing with a .266 batting average, four home runs and 26 RBIs.
However, the Houston native always made his presence felt on the field defensively from right field where he posted a team-best eight assists. Tully already ranks among the Cougars career leaders in that category and is poised to rise even higher in 2008.
Centerfielder Zak Presley returns for his sophomore season after an impressive rookie season in 2007.
The Southlake native finished with a .306 batting average - third best on the team - with two home runs, 28 RBIs and 13 stolen bases.
With his impressive numbers, Presley was an easy selection on the C-USA All-Freshmen Team.
He continued his trade during the 2007 summer in the Texas Collegiate League where he was named to the All-Star Game as a member of the Colleyville LoneStars.
After seeing most of his playing time at the bottom of the Cougar lineup a year ago, Presley likely will move to the top in 2008 and should be a fixture in center field for the years to come.
Junior Felix Fanaselle began the 2007 season in the infield but made the change to the outfield when his bat made him a regular in the lineup.
A dangerous hitter from the left side, Fanaselle posted a .296 batting average with three home runs and 26 RBIs in 2007. He helped ignite the Cougar offense during UH's 5-2 win over No. 5 Rice in the series opener with a towering solo home run to center field in the bottom of the first inning.
If not playing in the outfield, Fanaselle also could see playing time as the DH.
The Cougars have earned a reputation for playing one of the nation's more challenging schedules, and the 2008 season is no different.
This season, UH will enjoy 31 games at the friendly confines of Cougar Field. After opening the season against Pacific on Feb. 22-24 in a three-game series, the Cougars welcome UC Santa Barbara (March 7-9) and San Francisco (March 14-16) to Houston in weekend series .
UH is scheduled to face Texas State (Feb. 26), Louisiana-Lafayette (March 4), Sacred Heart (March 5), Stephen F. Austin (March 11), Lamar (March 18), Rice (March 26), Texas A&M (April 8), Sam Houston State (April 16), McNeese State (April 22) and Texas-San Antonio in single home dates. In C-USA action, the Cougars play host to UCF (April 4-6), Tulane (April 11-13), Memphis (May 2-4) and Marshall (May 15-17).
UH will leave the city of Houston to face Sam Houston State (March 12), McNeese State (March 25), Texas State (April 9), Stephen F. Austin (April 15), Lamar (April 29) and Texas-San Antonio (May 13) in non-conference single games.
For the eighth straight season, the Cougars will compete at the Houston College Classic -- one of the nation's premier college tournaments -- to face Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Texas on Feb. 29-March 2 at Minute Maid Park.
In C-USA games, the Cougars hit the road to face East Carolina (March 21-23), UAB (April 18-20), Southern Miss (April 25-27) and Rice (May 9-11).
In addition to their three-game series at Rice, the Cougars will face the Owls in a pair of non-conference showdowns earlier in the season. UH meets the Owls at Reckling Park on Feb. 27 before playing host to its lone home contest against Rice on March 26.
The Cougars also will head to the West Coast for the 10th straight season when they meet San Diego State on March 28-30.
The Top Eight teams from Conference USA will head to Tulane's Turchin Stadium on May 21-25 for the annual C-USA Tournament. The Green Wave was slated to play host to the event a year ago but was forced to switch with East Carolina when renovations to their home field were slowed following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The winner of the league's annual postseason event earns its automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals, which begin June 1.