May 8, 2011
HOUSTON - The University of Houston softball team completed its sweep against UCF with a 7-0 win on Sunday at Cougar Softball Stadium to finish the regular season as the Co-Conference USA champions for the third time in program history.
Houston (39-15, 19-5) won seven-straight conference series to finish the league on a 19-2 run after starting the season with a sweep at the hands of UAB. The Cougars earned the sweep against the Knights (21-31, 11-13) using three-straight shutouts, the first time Houston has done that against a C-USA opponent since the NCAA Super Regional club did so against UTEP in 2008.
"The coaches in our conference have all agreed that winning a regular season title over the course of a season is much more difficult to do than getting hot at the right time and winning the tournament," head coach Kyla Holas said. "To stay focused on our goals and get past the start of our (conference) season was difficult, but they went out and did it. I'm proud of them."
The C-USA coaches voted Houston as the preseason conference champion in February, and despite a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season, Holas and the Cougars rebounded to make the preseason poll hold up on the final day of the regular season.
With two weeks remaining, Houston needed six-straight wins to stay in the hunt for the title. The team won three-straight on the road at East Carolina, but needed three more on senior weekend against UCF to claim the championship. On Sunday, Houston completed that goal.
"To me, being able to do that is more impressive than leading the conference in stats or anything like that," Holas said. "Everyone said that those losses negated anything positive that we did. Those losses stood out more than all the good things we had done. To come out of that with a championship does so much for us, and took more of us than people realize."
Freshman Diedre Outon (6-2) was called upon to start on Sunday. Ignoring the pressure, Outon tossed her second-career complete game shutout. She scattered seven hits over seven innings, while striking out two. Without surrendering a single walk, Outon was the third Cougar pitcher of the weekend to record a shutout victory.
"We had a big discussion between our staff on who would start today," Holas said. "I don't think there are a lot teams in the country right now winning games with three pitchers. Now we have a freshman that's won a championship. To have a freshman say `I can do this for you' and then go out and do it - that's huge for the future of this program."
Senior Baillie Lott provided the dramatic effect that sealed the game in the bottom of the sixth. On her final game on her home field, Lott was called upon to pinch hit with the bases loaded.
Lott responded by crushing a grand slam to left field. The Cougars' first grand slam of the season, and the second of Lott's career, put the game out of reach and resulted in the final 7-0 score.
Sophomores Reina Gaber, Holly Anderson and Brooke Lathan also powered the team at the plate. Gaber recorded a 3-for-3 day with an RBI, while Anderson ended the series with a hit in each game and Lathan connected on her 13th bomb of the season.
As they did all weekend, the Cougars jumped on the scoreboard at their first opportunity. Senior right fielder Katy Beth Sherman drew a four-pitch leadoff walk and darted to second on a passed ball.
After going yard twice on Saturday, Anderson laid down a well-placed bunt to move Sherman to third in time for Gaber to come up. Gaber dialed in and drove a single up the middle to bring home Sherman and put the Cougars ahead early, 1-0.
In the following at bat, the Cougars resorted back to the long ball when Lathan drilled her 13th homer of the season to right field.
Holding on to a 2-0 lead, Outon ran into a UCF rally in the top of the fourth. Designated player Abby McClain and shortstop Tiffany Lane notched back-to-back, two-out hits to load the bases against the freshman. Anderson snagged a line drive smoked to third base for the final out of the inning, leaving all three stranded.
Sherman and Anderson teamed up again in the bottom of the fifth to pin another run onto Houston's lead. Sherman reached on a throwing error, taking second base in the process. Anderson followed her up with a liner to center, and although she got tagged out trying to take second, it gave Sherman enough time to score her second run of the game and put Houston up, 3-0.
Unwilling to give up a run, Houston's defense negated center fielder Vanessa Perez's infield single by turning a double play to end the Knights' half of the sixth. Lathan and redshirt junior second baseman Jennifer Klinkert hooked up for C-USA's-best 19th double play of the season.
Pairing offense with defense, Lott followed her defense's double play in the top of the sixth with her grand slam in the bottom of the frame. Fittingly, Outon shook off a pair of UCF hits in the top of the seventh by fielding a comebacker and tossing it to first baseman Stesha Brazil for the final out of the game.
A mother of three, Holas celebrated Mother's Day by being doused with Gatorade as the final out was called. The Cougars' veteran head coach now stands just six wins away from her 400th career victory.
With Tulsa sweeping UTEP simultaneously this weekend, the teams finished tied for first place in Conference USA and will be crowned co-conference regular-season champions.
The Cougars won the series against the Golden Hurricane earlier this season, giving Houston the No. 1 seed at the C-USA Tournament to be hosted by East Carolina, May 12-14. The Cougars' first round matchup will be announced on Monday.