The Houston Cougar softball team began its second consecutive Austin regional much in the way it ended the last - with a win. The news got even better later in the day, as 4-seed Northwestern knocked off host Texas-Austin, putting the Longhorns in the loser's bracket.
It went all downhill from there for UH, as the Cougars couldn't escape Saturday's games, while the 'Horns dominated four games in two days to advance to the Super Regionals.
The regional underscored both what Houston has done well, and struggled at this year. And ultimately, the loss seemed somewhat inevitable for a young, fatally flawed team.
Friday's win over Auburn showed the team's scrappy, never-quit attitude. After surrendering their 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the Cougars came right back, loading the bases with two outs before scoring the go-ahead run on an illegal pitch. Sophomore Bailey Watts worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh for the win. It was almost enough to make one believe that the Coogs' pitching struggles were behind them.
Then came Saturday, and the harsh reality that the Cougars still don't have an ace that can shut down good hitting. In the opening game, Houston's on-occasions stellar hitting was up to the task, but none of Houston's trio of pitchers could slow down Northwestern, en route to a 13-9 loss. That set the Cougars up for a rematch with the Longhorns, which ended up in a run-rule loss for the second time this year. It was part of UT-Austin's four-game, 26-2 obliteration of the competition that allowed them to win their regional despite opening up with a 2-0 loss.
Kyla Holas and her staff will now have the off-season to see if they can help one of Houston's three underclassmen pitchers develop into the type of staff ace that the team needs to be able to lean on in key situations. In 2008, Houston advanced to the Super Regionals with stud Angel Shamblin in the circle. In 2011, it was the duo of Amanda Crabtree and Donna Bourgeois.
Who will step up in 2013?