Cougars looking to crush competition in regionals
By Stuart H. Clements
The Daily Cougar
After sweeping its final series against Texas Christian, the Houston
baseball team captured No. 1 in the Conference USA regular season for the
third time in four years.
Brian Viney/The Daily Cougar
Junior infielder Jesse Crain is greeted by the Cougars
after smashing a home run against Texas Christian May 10. Houston finished
in second place in the Conference USA tournament.
But the Cougars still potentially have a long way to go before their
season is over. Houston was defeated by East Carolina in the championship
game of the C-USA tournament, but despite the loss, the Cougars managed
to score the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Regional in Mesa, Ariz. at
Hohokam Park. The Cougars and South Alabama are the only two No. 1
seeds in the NCAA Regionals that are not hosting a tournament.
Houston's first challenge at the Regional tournament will be the New
Mexico State Aggies from Las Cruces, N.M.
The Cougars enter the tournament with a 44-15 record and are currently
ranked No. 7 in the Baseball America poll.
The Aggies are seeded No. 4 in the tournament and come into the contest
with a 37-23 record.
NMSU advanced to the NCAA Regionals on an automatic bid after winning
the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
The Aggies defeated South Alabama 20-9 to capture the title even after
finishing the regular season with a 10-14 conference record.
Gabe Veloz leads the Aggie offense with a .412 batting average. Veloz
smashed 15 dingers and tied Ryan Kenning to lead the team in
Kenning pulled off 24 home runs to lead the team in that category as
well as in RBIs with 96. NMSU's Corey Harrington led the Aggies in stolen
bases. Harrington stole 42 bases in 47 attempts.
Jason Williams is the Aggies' star pitcher. Williams holds a 4.16 ERA
and has the best record of 8-1. Williams tallied 73 strikeouts and only
walks in 88 and two-third innings.
The first game of the Regional will commence Friday at 12 p.m. Pacific
The second game of the first round is between the host Arizona State
(35-19) and San Diego (38-21), which will begin the same day at 6 p.m.
NMSU's head coach Gary Ward returned to his alma mater just last season
to coach, and has led the team to its first ever NCAA tournament
This will be Ward's 18th trip to the NCAA's.
Ward led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to 17 NCAA appearances, including
10 appearances in the College World Series.
The Cougars have the benefit of facing the No. 4 seed team in their
first round, but the Aggies are no longer the pushovers they once were.
Houston will have to rely on its offense more than ever to be victorious.
Juniors Chris Snyder, Jesse Crain and Brett Cooley continue as the Cougars
hitting triumvirate. Snyder led the Cougars in the regular season
with a .350 batting average and tallied 63 RBIs.
Cooley followed close behind Snyder with a .342 batting average and
also hit 15 over the fence to lead the Cougars in home runs. Cooley had
Crain managed to pull through in the clutch time after time. In the
first game of Houston's series against the Horned Frogs, Crain led off
Cougar scoring with a home run over left field.
Crain was also an exceptional closing pitcher with a 4-0 record and
a 0.00 ERA.
Sophomore Michael Bourn joined Snyder and Crain when all three were
named to the 2002 C-USA All-Tournament Team.
Sophomore right-hander Brad Sullivan continues to lead the Cougar pitching
staff. Sullivan holds a 2.08 ERA and in the C-USA tournament,
improved his record to 11-1.
Sullivan has also tallied the third highest number of strikeouts in
the nation with 142 in 112 and one-third innings of work, and is one of
semifinalists for the 15th Rotary Smith Award, which goes to the best
player in the nation.