It hasn't been an ideal year for the Houston Cougar softball program, but that didn't stop them from earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as the 3-seed in the Austin regional.
The Cougars will be shipping up to Austin for the second straight year. Last year, coach Kyla Holas' squad helped eliminate the host Longhorns en route to winning the regional. Can they pull off the feat twice in a row?
It will take some incredible mental toughness for the Cougars to advance, but they've proven they have that in spades. Houston has rallied from an early-season swoon that saw them go 4-13 at one stretch. They put that streak to bed with a 7-game winning streak, only to face the Longhorns in Houston's annual Striking Out Breast Cancer game. In front of the biggest crowd in program history, the Cougars were run-ruled, 15-4.
Still, the Cougars kept fighting back, winning enough games to plant themselves firmly on the bubble. The NCAA ranked UH #43 in the RPI heading into conference tournament time. A first-round victory over UCF (who swept the Coogs during the regular season, and ended up landing in at-large bid to the NCAAs, as well) helped, but a semi-final loss to eventual-champion Tulsa meant that the Cougars went into Sunday night sweating out their fate. The Austin regional was one of the last announced, but it contained good news for Houston.
The season hasn't been without its highlights. Sophomore catcher Hailey Outon has come on strong, and she'll head into the regional with a chance to break an NCAA record. In the conference tournament loss to Tulsa, Outon homered, the sixth straight game in which she has done so. That streak tied an NCAA record, giving her a chance, with a home run in Houston's NCAA tournament opener, to set a new national record. Not bad for an underclassman.
The Cougars will face the 2-seed Auburn on Friday at 7:00 PM in the opening game, while Texas-Austin will face Northwestern. The double-elimination regional format is identical to that of the NCAA baseball post-season. Houston's opening game will feature a familiar face, as the Tigers' starting second baseman is Brooke Lathan, who played two years for the Cougars in 2010 and 2011 before transferring. Lathan is second on Auburn in batting average (.300) and home runs (8).