HOUSTON – Jared Ray has battled injuries throughout his career as a prep standout and at the University of Houston. After redshirting the 2010 season, Ray appeared in just five games late last season as he was rehabilitating from his third shoulder surgery.
Despite the setbacks, the right-hander pitched well on Friday.
“He went out there and set the whole tone for us,” said Houston head coach Todd Whitting. “That was as good as I’ve seen him pitch. When teams are swinging and missing, your stuff is rocking and rolling. He kept them off-balanced and (Tennessee) didn’t get any good swings off of him.”
Ray was flawless in his first two innings of work as he commanded the strike zone effectively, fanning all six batters that he faced. Carrying a no-hitter into the fifth, Ray surrendered an RBI single to Wes Walker as the Volunteers mustered three hits in the frame but the senior proceeded to shut down their offense throughout the rest of his outing.
“I felt really good coming out today,” said Ray. “I was able to let my fastball go a little bit and my slider was good during the first couple of innings. I wanted to get some energy going at the beginning of the game and make pitches to give us a chance to win.”
Ray (1-0) picked up the win allowing just one run on five hits while striking out a career-high 10 batters without issuing a walk in a season-long seven innings of work.
“My arm is definitely in better shape. I’m stronger, healthier and there is confidence in that preparing each week knowing that you’re going to be healthy.”
Struggling to produce runs in their last five games, the Houston (5-4) offense gave Ray an early cushion in the fourth as the Cougars manufactured three runs but left the bases loaded. The Cougars then added four runs over the next three frames as Ray continued to control the game on the hill.
Although they stranded 13 runners, the Cougars offense strung together 13 hits – all from the top seven in the order. Senior catcher John Cannon led the way with a 3-for-5 outing at the plate, drawing two walks and driving in three runs, after entering the weekend hitting at a .231 clip.
The Cougars were 8-for-15 on the afternoon with four RBI when batting with two outs.
Drew Steckenrider (1-1) was charged with the loss after allowing three runs on three hits while issuing three walks in 3.1 innings of work.
Facing a 7-1 deficit in their final at-bat, Tennessee (7-2) made things interesting in the ninth as Zach Osborne led off with a double and Chris Pierce followed with an infield single. The Vols then broke through on reliever Matt Hernandez with an RBI groundout and an infield single before Whitting called on Mo Wiley to get the final out with the bases loaded.
Wiley was shaky and proceeded to hit Ethan Bennett in an eight-pitch at-bat to walk in a run before ultimately getting Zach Luther to ground out on a sharp liner to second. The save marked the second of the season for Wiley.
Houston returns to action tomorrow at noon as they take on No. 4 Arkansas at noon while Tennessee will look to rebound against Texas.