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Volume 71, Issue 132, Friday, April 21, 2006

Sports

Everything clicking for Cougar baseball

Silent Assassin 

Ronnie Turner

When UH faces off against Memphis tonight in the opener of their three-game series at Cougar Field, the Collegiate Baseball No. 19 Cougars will attempt to throw everything they've got at the Tigers. There'll be the usual sterling pitching from junior ace Brad Lincoln and the hot hitting that has become the norm for the UH lineup. There might even be multitudes of fans present.

But, in addition to all this, the Cougars will give the Tigers a taste of something else, something they clearly lacked earlier this season: a winning look. I believe we all know that look. You know, the look that says, "I'm good, I know I'm good, I'm going to defeat you and there's nothing you can do about it." 

Having won 13 of their last 17 games heading into today's contest, the Cougars (25-15, 9-3 Conference USA) are playing like a team that's hungry for something. That something is a NCAA Tournament berth, and the Cougars haven't satisfied that hunger since 2003. Since their last trip, the Cougars have been plagued by futility, finishing 30-29 in 2004 and 29-30 in 2005, coming up short of the C-USA Tournament each season.

At this date last season, UH was 16-20 and staring at a tie for fourth place in C-USA with Louisville. So far this season, the Cougars have handled adversity well and launched into second place in the new-look C-USA. There's still a good amount of ball left to be played, and nothing is set in stone. There will be more challenges, including a highly anticipated meeting with Rice, who currently sits atop the conference.

The Cougars would like nothing more than to meet the Owls three weeks from now with the conference regular season title on the line. 

The Cougars have seen their share of lows this season, most of them coming from the outset. At one point, it wasn't certain if the bullpen would ever perform to its potential, or even close. It struggled to preserve leads late in games, and ended up costing the Cougars at least five or six games this season while coming close to blowing several others. 

Things got better over time as head coach Rayner Noble came up with the right mix of relievers to get the job done, and so far, they've held strong. The bullpen is still a little shaky, but with the huge leads they've been staked lately, finishing games hasn't been much of a problem. 

For that matter, neither has hitting.

The Cougars' offense has been on fire lately. They've been doing it with small ball, long ball and just about every other way you can imagine. The hitters are seeing the ball extremely well, and have been very efficient at driving in runners in scoring position. 

However, the player who has been the most consistent out of the bunch has been Lincoln. He's currently 8-1 with a 1.78 ERA and a career-best seven-game winning streak. He deserves as much credit as anyone else for the Cougars' current run of success. 

But, like his teammates, he's hungry for a chance at the postseason. He's never been there.And with the way his stock is soaring at the moment, this may be his last shot at collegiate glory. He could be a first-round pick in this year's MLB draft.

But knowing Lincoln, that's the farthest thing from his mind. 

He's thinking about the game against Memphis tonight, and the games ahead. So are his teammates.
 

Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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