Category archive: Houston Cougars

• There will be a lot of talk about the top of the ticket at this weekend's tournament hosted by the University of Alabama, which features a pair of games between No. 1 Washington and No. 3 Alabama. But Baylor, along with Georgia, will also be on hand in Tuscaloosa, and the Bears are starting to look like a team to watch.

Glenn Moore's team wrapped up a perfect weekend Sunday, albeit against unranked competition in Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers, and sits at 17-3 overall. A year after the Bears struggled to find quality innings in the circle following Lisa Ferguson's graduation, Whitney Canion is out of the gates quickly in the race for top freshman pitching honors. Canion is 10-2 with 117 strikeouts in 81 2/3 innings, including 15 strikeouts and a win in 13 innings against then-No. 1 Florida last month. To put those numbers in some perspective, last season's staff combined for 192 strikeouts in 306 1/3 innings.

• Houston slipped out of the Top 25 last week, and a month into the season, it's still looking for its second shutout of the post-Angel Shamblin era in the circle. But the Cougars did register one of last weekend's notable results in a 3-2 win against Michigan at the weather-shortened Leadoff Classic. Bailee Lott picked up the win for the Cougars, and with an offense averaging five runs per game against a quality schedule, they still have the tools to help out a pitching staff in rebuilding mode.

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Danielle Spaulding
Jeff Camarti/UNC Athletic Communications North Carolina's Danielle Spaulding has struck out 98 batters in 47 innings this season.

Texas A&M visits Houston in perhaps the best midweek offering on the national schedule, with the Aggies fresh off taking two of three from Arizona.

But beyond what should be an intriguing game in the battle for Lone Star bragging rights, it's also the third annual "Striking Out Breast Cancer" game at Houston's Cougar Softball Stadium. Cougar players will wear pink jerseys and batting helmets, which will be autographed and auctioned as part of a silent auction, with proceeds going to the Houston affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity.

For the third time in as many events, Veronica Nordstrom will throw out the ceremonial first pitch to her daughter, Elaina. The elder Nordstrom is a cancer survivor, and in last year's event, Elaina hit a walk-off grand slam against Texas.

• It's not easy to believe (or maybe that's just me who wonders where February went), but North Carolina kicks off ACC play with an important three-game set against Florida State in just six days. That series caps off a run of seven games in five days for the Tar Heels, who play Elon, Georgetown, Michigan State and Princeton this weekend.

The Tar Heels were washed out at the Tennessee classic last weekend, costing them a marquee game against the host Lady Vols, but the team from Chapel Hill has been rolling since a pair of one-run defeats in the opening week. Even the one loss in the interim, a 4-2 setback against Fresno State at the Cathedral City Classic, couldn't stop the Tar Heels for long. Trailing Oregon State a few hours after the Fresno game, UNC rallied for four runs in the top of the seventh and secured a 5-2 win.

That doesn't seem like the sign of a team stuck on last season's postseason disaster, which saw North Carolina go two-and-barbeque on its own field in regionals.

But perhaps it is indicative of a team that knows it can count on its runs to stand up behind Danielle Spaulding and Lisa Norris. The pitchers have allowed just 11 earned runs in 92 1/3 innings this season combined, splitting duties almost exactly equally.

"They're so solid when they go out on the mound," Papa said. "They're two really quality pitchers. They could be starters on any team, the No. 1 on any team. It's just that we have a good complement. And they all like each other and they get along well."

Spaulding, in particular, has been almost unhittable, allowing just 19 hits -- and only four extra-base hits -- in 47 innings, while striking out 98. The Californian throws the ball hard enough, reaching the mid-to-upper 60s in Cathedral City when there was a gun on her, but her ability to move the ball in both the vertical and horizontal planes is what catches the eye.

"My favorite and best pitch is the rise ball," Spaulding said. "I probably throw that 85 percent of the time. … Even when it's not on, I still throw it, just because that's my pitch. I mean, I usually always get a strike with that. That and the curveball is my other go-to pitch."

• And finally, I'm going to try to aggregate the weekly award winners in this space on a regular basis, so we'll see how that goes. For the most recent week of competition:

Pitcher: Karla Wilburn, Virginia
Player: Sarah Tacke, Virginia

Atlantic 10
Pitcher: Brandice Balschmiter, Massachusetts
Player: Carly Normandin, Massachusetts

Big 12
Pitcher: Rhiannon Kliesing, Texas A&M
Player: Holly Ridley, Texas A&M

Big East
Pitcher: Brittany Gardner, Syracuse
Player: Colby Wherry, Louisville

Big Ten
Pitcher: Kim Reeder, Ohio State
Player: Lindsey Hansen, Michigan State

Big West
Pitcher: Anna Cahn, Cal Poly
Player: Kristin Pocock, Long Beach State; Nicole Matson, Pacific (shared)

Mountain West
Pitcher: Kelli Eubanks, Colorado State
Player: Jessica Camello, San Diego State

Pitcher: Donna Kerr, UCLA
Player: Renee Welty, Arizona State

Pitcher: Stacey Nelson, Florida
Player: Francesca Enea, Florida

Pitcher: Mallary Darby, Nevada
Player: Tanisha Milca, Hawaii

Softball preason No. 19: Houston

January, 9, 2009
On Friday, we took a look at North Carolina, the first entry in this softball preseason top 20. Moving in chronological order means it's time for No. 19, a number which also served as the title of a song by Paul Hardcastle that was the first rock single I ever purchased. And the fact that not a single player on the team that occupies this spot was alive when the song came out in 1985 doesn't make me feel old. At all. Really.

19. Houston

Last season: 54-11 (lost to Louisiana-Lafayette in Houston super regional)

Preseason talking point: The good news is Houston averaged 5.7 runs per game last season and returns the five most productive hitters in its batting order:

Laurie Wagner (.498 OBP, .826 SLG, 57 RBI)
Jessica Valis (.475 OBP, .539 SLG, 20 SB)
Elaina Nordstrom (.444 OBP, .601 SLG, 52 RBI)
Jennifer Klinkert (.458 OBP, .619 SLG, 55 RBI)
Katie Bush (.444 OBP, 18 SB)

The bad news is, outside of Virginia Tech and possibly the Milwaukee Brewers, you're going to have a tough time finding a team that lost a more valuable ace than the Cougars did when Angel Shamblin matriculated. With just one more win last season, and the spot in Oklahoma City it would have earned, Shamblin might have caught more eyes. As it was, her 36-5 record, 0.94 ERA and 299 strikeouts went gently into that good night of graduation.

What's left is a top-10 offense with questions in the circle that lands them in this spot. Baillie Lott returns after a solid freshman effort (7-3, 2.50 ERA), but the intrigue comes with a trio of newcomers: Oklahoma State transfer Amanda Crabtree, JC transfer Lindsey Olson and freshman Kaela DeBroeck. Olson had a tremendous strikeout-to-walk ratio for Galveston College last season (185 strikeouts, 36 walks in 160 innings) and Crabtree could be a sleeper after a freshman season for the Cowgirls that was marred by control issues as much as anything.