A disappointing end for UH baseball, but the future appears bright – Houston Chronicle

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What if Wong’s shot had stayed fair, bounced off the upper part of the wall – “I thought it had a chance,” the junior catcher said – and sent Houston to a victory and a winner-take-all game later in the day?

What if the Cougars had not lost, with ace Trey Cumbie on the mound, to Iowa in the regional opener?

What if Lael Lockhart Jr. had touched first base?

What if Seth Romero doesn’t get suspended? (He never stayed out of the doghouse long enough to find out).

“I’m in shock right now we didn’t win this regional,” Whitting said of UH falling as the top seed at home for the second time in three years.

It depends on how you look at it, but the Cougars either overachieved, winning a share of the American Athletic Conference regular-season title and earning a regional host bid with a roster full of newcomers, or they have built a program under Whitting that can sustain roster turnover and make an NCAA run every year.

“The future of this program is bright,” Wong said. “I’m really proud of the young guys who had to grow up early this season. Every single one of these freshmen has a really good career ahead of them here.”

The roster included more than 20 first-year Division I players (true freshmen and junior-college transfers), with more than a dozen making significant contributions. None was bigger than transfer third baseman Jake Scheiner, who hit .346 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs and was named AAC co-player of the year.

Decision time for some

UH will lose only one senior (lefthander John King), but several high-profile players could leave through the major league draft. The Cougars’ top-draft eligible players include Wong; center fielder Corey Julks, who hit .471 with two home runs and a memorable catch crashing into the wall in the regional opener against Iowa; and Scheiner. Cumbie, who emerged as the staff ace and won 10 games, is a draft-eligible sophomore.

“We’ve got some great major league prospects on our team,” Whitting said. “We’ll see what happens when the draft comes around. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

A year after missing the postseason, expectations may have been tempered with so many unknowns. But Houston stayed in the AAC hunt, eventually clinching a share of the title on the final day and sweeping four games at the conference tournament to snare a regional host bid. It was the first time the Cougars swept the conference regular-season and tournament titles in the same season since 2000.

“It’s hard to get here,” Whitting said. “I’m proud of my guys to fight through what they did. A lot of people counted us out.”

Whitting said a sold-out regional, which attracted more than 20,000 for four days, was also a clear indication of where things are going.

“It sends a strong message about the state of the program and where we are at right now, not only locally but on a national stage.”

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