Houston Breaks Onto National Scene Ranked No. 23 in USA Today/NFCA Poll
Feb. 22, 2011
HOUSTON - The University of Houston softball team was voted into the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 poll after making program history at the Hilton Houston Plaza Classic. The Cougars made their debut at No. 23 when the poll was released Tuesday morning.
Houston (8-1) stretched its win streak by posting a flawless 5-0 record at the Hilton Houston Plaza Classic, Feb. 18-20. Since falling to then-No. 8 Michigan in the season opener, the Cougars have ignited for eight-straight wins to find themselves among the nation's elite just two weeks into the season.
"We always tell our girls that it's so much harder to get in than to get out," head coach Kyla Holas said. "When they send those polls out, week in-week out it's almost that same small group of teams. So you really have to knock on some doors on a consistent basis to get in. We're glad that they're taking a look at what we've done both weekends."
Holas' team also garnered national attention in the initial Ultimate College Softball Top 25 poll. The site released its first poll of the season Tuesday morning, where the Cougars were also ranked No. 23. The ESPN.com/USA Softball Division I poll releases its updated rankings on Wednesdays.
The Cougars opened the weekend with a thrilling 3-2 win against then-No. 20/22 Oklahoma State. On Saturday, Houston faced then-No. 16/18 LSU and overcame a 4-0 deficit before redshirt junior Jennifer Klinkert drilled an RBI single for the walk-off win in the bottom of the eighth, 5-4. Led by Holas' former coach, Yvette Girouard, the Tigers' shot at redemption on Sunday was ruined by sophomore Reina Gaber's game-winning base hit in the bottom of the eighth to clench the victory, 1-0.
Sunday's victory marked the first time in program history that the Cougars knocked off three nationally ranked teams in the same weekend. Voted on by NCAA Division I head coaches, one representing each conference, the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll recognized the Cougars following their sizzling start to the season. This week, the Cougars return to nationally ranked status for the first time since Feb. 17, 2009.
"We've always wanted to be that top-25 team year in-year out," Holas said. "That's the type of program that I played in and it's one of the things we've preached here about establishing tradition. I think people see us as a top-50 team all the time, but that top-25 is definitely hard to break into."
Aside from taking down their ranked opponents, the Cougars took care of business against the rest of the field last weekend. Senior pitcher Amanda Crabtree (4-0) threw her first career no-hitter in Friday's nightcap against Nicholls State. She tossed all seven innings, striking out 11 in the 6-0 victory. Freshman Diedre Outon (1-0) scattered seven hits and allowed two unearned runs in UH's 12-2 win against Southern following the LSU game Saturday evening.
Senior pitcher Donna Bourgeois (3-1) also shined, as she was the winning pitcher against Oklahoma State and the first meeting with LSU. In fifteen innings in the circle last weekend, Bourgeois allowed just six runs and struck out eight. Combined, the pitching staff holds a team ERA of 1.15 and is holding opponents to a .160 batting average as they head into the nation's top 25.
"We have to make sure we continue to do that, especially through these next two tournament weekends," Holas said. "That's going to finish off that tournament part of our schedule and hopefully put us in a good spot to start conference play. It's a whole different ballgame when you have to start doing that. If we can finish out these next two really strong, hopefully we make a case that no matter what things come along the way, we can stay in that spot."
Houston showed its strength at the plate by belting seven home runs on the weekend, totaling 12 on the year. Sophomore Brooke Lathan continued her hot start, collecting her fourth and fifth bombs of the season against Southern, while senior Baillie Lott cranked one out against Oklahoma State. Juniors Melissa Gregson and Klinkert each connected on their first and second home runs of 2011 during the weekend.
As Holas mentioned, the Cougars will look to continue its solid start on the road for the next two weeks. UH heads to Huntsville, Texas on Wednesday for a doubleheader against Sam Houston State before setting out for Waco to play in Baylor's Getterman/STI Classic, Feb. 25-27. The Cougars will wrap up its tournament schedule in San Diego, Calif., against a powerful field, including No. 25 BYU, San Diego State and Fresno State, who is receiving votes in this week's poll.