You can find the IT season preview for baseball here.
Opening Day is a celebrated day of optimism heading into the long stretch of a baseball season. For new head coach David Pierce, being at Texas is an exciting new journey for him. The first game of the season is always special for Pierce, whether he is coaching the Texas Longhorns or the Dobie Longhorns.
“I got excited when we were at Dobie High School playing on campus,” Pierce said. “I’ve always felt like wherever I was was the place to be. Whether I was coaching one of my high school teams, making sure we were ready to go, or the University of Texas. It definitely has a special feel to it. Opening Day in baseball, it’s the best. We’re looking forward to great weather, a great crowd, and hopefully a great performance.”
This weekend’s four game set with Rice will be an immediate test for the Longhorns as Wayne Graham and the Owls enter Austin ranked No. 23 by D1 Baseball. Rice-Texas games in recent years have always been highly competitive match ups and always seem to mean a little more.
This holds true for the Texas skipper this weekend. Pierce coached under Graham from 2003 to 2011 and was part of the staff during the Owls’ College World Series championship in 2003. The match up will bring some emotion to the park for Pierce, but he also understands the quality of opponent coming into the Disch.
“I have so much respect for their program, for coach [Graham], but I wouldn’t say it’s more special,” Pierce said. “To me it’s somewhat ironic that we’re opening up with them. I think the competition all weekend is going to be fierce on both sides. They’ve got a very solid team coming off of a regional finals. They return seven starters. They’ve got a couple arms returning and a great closer. It’s going to be interesting just to see how we respond after what we’ve been through from the fall until now. Just real anxious to see how we respond.”
Texas announced three of the four starters for the opening series on Wednesday. To no one’s surprise, junior Morgan Cooper is the Friday starter. On Saturday, junior Kyle Johnston pitches game one with freshman Blair Henley following him up in game two.
Henley, who hails from Arlington Heights, was a Perfect Game All-American honorable mention during his senior season. During that season, Henley threw three consecutive no-hitters for his high school. He was drafted in the 22nd round by the Yankees, but came to Texas for moments like these.
“I’m pumped,” Henley said. “We’ve prepared really well for this. I’m excited to get my first game under my belt and ready to get a couple of wins.”
Henley described the team as anxious to get out onto the field and finally play a team wearing a different colored uniform. Henley seemed anxious to prove himself.
“I’ve worked pretty hard to get myself in the starting rotation,” Henley said. “I was throwing out here and coach came up to me and said I’ll probably throw game three. I think I’ve prepared and can do everything in my power to help the team win.”
Not only did Pierce preview the rotation, but he also previewed the starting lineup. Junior Michael Cantu will start at catcher. Left to right on the infield, the Longhorns have freshman Ryan Reynolds at third, freshman David Hamilton at short, junior Bret Boswell at second and senior Kacy Clemens at first. In the outfield, junior Travis Jones is in left, freshman Austin Todd is in center and junior Patrick Mathis is in right. Sophomore Kody Clemens, who is recovering from Tommy John, will DH.
Noticeably absent is senior Zane Gurwitz. Pierce said Gurwitz, who can play all over the field, is day-to-day with a hamstring issue.
Reynolds, who is the son of former Longhorn and MLB veteran Shane Reynolds, is one of three freshman in the starting lineup for Pierce. Reynolds is happy he will be able to contribute this early.
“As a freshman, coming in here and doing anything I can to help this team,” Reynolds said on what his goal was. “Whether it’s playing third or coming off for a pinch hit situation, anything with my glove and my bat, I’m just trying to help this team out.”
Pierce was asked about the younger players stepping up and contributing immediately. He said they move on quickly from their mistakes.
“They’re very aggressive and they’re talented,” Pierce said. “They’re easy to coach because they’re fun, because they want to get better. They don’t feel like they’re trying to keep up with someone else. They’re starting to be themselves.”
He knows to expect some bad with the good. “They’re going to make some dumb mistakes at times, but we’re willing to take that chance because they are talented and their mentality is right,” Pierce said.
From previous availabilities, several team leaders repeated the notion that they were sick of what had been going on at the University of Texas and wanted to return the baseball program to its expected prominence.
While that notion might lead to players pressing, the opposite has happened. Players talk about how relaxed the attitude around the clubhouse has been rather than the team pressing to succeed. Pierce would say the relaxed attitude comes from instilling confidence in the team.
“I think, and as we all know, the expectations of the University of Texas adds that to you,” Pierce said. “It adds that little pressure where you feel as if you have to do something different. I’m just trying to get them to trust who they are and really teaching them preparation through utilizing their imagination. Understanding what true awareness means. Understanding what anticipation means, and being adaptable when the balls in play. If we go through that process, then I think you become more prepared and you feel more confident. So we’re looking for their confidence to get them to relax.”
Pierce that relaxed attitude does not mean they are building for the future. Pierce wants to win this season.
“I think we have a great team,” Pierce said. “I really do. Just our mentality and how the pieces fall is going to be critical. Health is always an issue. If we can stay healthy and get that confidence going, we have a chance to do damage this year. I’ve never been into waiting until I get my guys. These guys in the clubhouse now are our guys. That’s how we’ve always coached them.”