The Houston Cougars opened the 2016 slate with a three-game sweep of the Villanova Wildcats over the weekend. Over the course of the entire weekend, the power hitting and pitching of the University of Houston proved too much for Villanova, even in a slight pitcher’s duel that took place on Saturday.
Villanova did scratch across a run in the top half of the seventh on a fielder’s choice by Lukas Derenzi to score Max Beermann. The Wildcats didn’t have much success against UH starter Andrew Lantrip or relievers Nathan Jackson, Nick Hernandez or Tanner Lawson. Cougars catcher Connor Wong hit a leadoff home run over the left field wall in the bottom half of the first to start the offensive onslaught for UH. Houston also added four runs apiece in both the third, and seventh inning. In the third, Jacob Cambell hit the second of home run of the game, a three-run shot, once again to left field. In the seventh, Houston added four more to an already nine-run lead as the Cougars sent 10 hitters to the plate. The big blow, a Joe Davis double down the left field line to score two.
Houston ace Andrew Lantrip picked up right where he left off as he had Nova hitters off-balance all night. He was a little wild in the early going, but he controlled the fastball and slider well. In fact, Lantrip himself said that his best pitch was the slider. The 6’2″ 180 lb. righty gave up just two hits over six scoreless innings and recorded five strikeouts.
“I came out a little shaky,” mentioned Lantrip. The fastball command wasn’t there but throughout the course of the game I got settled in. They like to attack the fastball so I was able to counter it with some offspeed pitches for strikes to get ahead. The slider was working well tonight; it had some great break to it.”
The bullpen didn’t have its best night, but allowed just one run over three innings and recorded three strikeouts.
Runs came at much more of a premium, but Houston still put on an impressive display of power against the Wildcats. Wong, for the second day in a row, led-off the game with extra bases and later scored on a two out single by first basemen Joe Davis. Also coming across was second basemen Connor Hollis. For the most part though, sophomore starting pitcher Ryan Doty kept the powerful Houston bats at-bay for the rest of his outing. The only other run the righty gave up, came in the fifth, a hanging breaking ball to Houston outfielder Corey Julks.
The Villanova bats were still silent though as the Wildcats couldn’t crack the scoreboard against UH starter John King or reliever Aaron Fletcher. In fact, the Wildcats were only able to muster one hit against the Cougars pitching staff and struck out nine times.
Consider me impressed with Villanova sophomore Ryan Doty. The right hander, listed at 6’1″ 191 lbs. was effective with multiple pitches but had success getting ahead with a fastball that was anywhere from 87-90 consistently, reached 92, and freezing hitters with a good curveball that averaged around 82-85.
“He was wild within the zone which makes it hard to settle in on,” said Houston manager Todd Whitting. “He’d go fastball up, fastball down, send you one right down the middle, then flip a breaking ball in there.”
Equally impressive was Houston starter John King (6’2″ 215lbs), who was making his first start since transferring into the program from Angelina Junior College. The lefty was sitting around 88-89 mph with a good sinking fastball that topped out at 90 mph. He followed that up with a slider that averaged 71 mph and topped out at 75 mph.
“We jumped out to another early lead and that helped me go the whole way,” King said. “I just kept doing the same thing to every hitter. I kept it low and put lots of movement on it. I threw the fastball a lot. My two-seam had a lot of bite to it today, and I mixed in the slider as well.”
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the final game of the series was the resilience of freshman pitcher Mitch Ullom. I say resilience because Villanova came out and attacked the fastball early on. Todd Czinege got a hold of a mistake in the first inning to quickly give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead, but that was all Nova would get from Ullom. The lead didn’t last very long, as Houston called Nova’s two first-inning runs and raised the Wildcats two more in the inning. Jacob Campbell and Clay Casey each provided long balls for Houston on the afternoon as the Cougars forced Nova to go through six pitchers on the day.
“I think he was out there just trying to survive,” said Whitting of his freshman starter, “He got into competitive mode after that guy banged that ball out of here. He settled down and was pretty good.”
Probably the second biggest takeaway of the day was the return of Bubba Maxwell. In case you haven’t heard, Maxwell underwent Tommy John Surgery last season shortly after the beginning of the season (story). After just under a year of recovery, Maxwell took the mound in the final two innings of Sunday’s game. In those two innings of work, he did give up a run, but also recorded two strikeouts. The first of those strikeouts came against Beermann, who he set up with two 90MPH fastballs, then froze him on an offspeed pitch at the knees. The second came as Maxwell blew a 91MPH fastball right past Lukas Derenzi to retire the side in the eighth.
“His velocity was good,” said Whitting on Maxwell. “He’s not quite a year out from Tommy John Surgery so for him to go out there, throw strikes, and have a little something on the ball, he was letting it loose pretty good. That’s very encouraging going forward.”