NCAA BASKETBALL

Cougars fall to Cincy, still earn 3 seed

The Houston Cougars played their worst game of the season on Sunday after a shaky effort against Memphis on Saturday. Houston fell to Cincinnati in the finals of the American Conference Tournament on Sunday, losing 69-57.

Still, they landed a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will face Georgia State in the first round, and most likely No. 6 seed Iowa State in the second. The Cougars will play in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Despite the shaky weekend, the Cougars finished 31-3. Their best player, senior Corey Davis, is dealing with an injury. But if he is OK, they should at least make the Sweet 16. Anything less would be a disappointment.

The Cougars could theoretically get Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and North Carolina in the Elite 8. If they can run that gauntlet, they would make the Final Four.

Several other teams from Texas (and of interest to Houstonians) made the tournament as well:

Prairie View will play in the First Four after winning the SWAC. They face Farleigh Dickinson.

LSU is a three seed and will face Yale in the East Region.

Baylor is a nine seed and will face Syracuse in the West Region.

Texas Tech is a three seed in the West and will face Northern Kentucky.

Abilene Christian (27-6) faces No. 2 seed Kentucky (27-6).

The AAC got in UCF, Cincinnati and Temple in addition to UH. The Big 12 got six, but TCU and Texas failed to get in.

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After the Mariners came alive late in Monday's series opener to hand the Houston the loss and keep their playoff picture hanging in the balance, the Astros returned to T-Mobile Park on Tuesday to try and decrease their magic number. Here's how the middle game went:

Final Score: Astros 6, Mariners 1.

Record: 28-27, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Framber Valdez (5-3, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Casey Sadler (1-2, 5.40 ERA).

Both teams trade first-inning runs

The Astros struck first in Tuesday's game, not waiting around until the ninth inning to get on the board. Instead, they jumped out to an immediate 1-0 lead after a two-out RBI-single by Kyle Tucker in the top of the first. The Mariners responded quickly, though, getting a leadoff single in the bottom of the inning before a two-out RBI-double of their own to tie it 1-1.

Astros score five in the sixth

The 1-1 score held all the way until the top of the sixth when the Astros would flip the script from the night prior, taking advantage of some mistakes by Seattle to put up a big inning. First, Michael Brantley started the inning with a solo go-ahead homer to make it 2-1. Then, Kyle Tucker would get his third hit of the night with one out before eventually scoring after a walk and two wild pitches, making it 3-2. With two walks to keep the inning alive and put some insurance runs on base, Martin Maldonado took advantage with a big three-run home run to extend the lead to 6-1.

Valdez finishes seven strong, Astros even series

After allowing the one run in the bottom of the first, Framber Valdez recovered and put together a solid outing on the mound. He allowed just five hits total, two of which came in the first, then back-to-back singles in the fourth and a single in the fifth, while otherwise keeping the Mariners at bay. He would end up completing seven innings of one-run baseball while striking out eight. His final line: 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K, 0 HR, 108 P.

After Valdez, Enoli Paredes would take over in the bottom of the eighth, working around a leadoff single to get a scoreless inning to keep it 6-1. In the non-save situation, Josh James would come in for the bottom of the ninth and finish off the win for Houston.

Up Next: The finale and rubber game of this three-game set will start a bit earlier on Wednesday, with first pitch scheduled for 5:40 PM Central. The pitching matchup will be Nick Margevicius (1-3, 5.35 ERA) for the Mariners going against Zack Greinke (3-2, 3.90 ERA) for the Astros.

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