AUSTIN — 2018 is my sixth season covering the Longhorn baseball program. In those years, I’ve seen teams stay at home in the postseason, rally to make the postseason by winning the conference tournament, get eliminated in the regional round, and reach the national semi-finals before losing in extras. In those six seasons spanning two head coaches and dozens of players, 2018 is the first time I’ve seen Texas in the thick of the regular season conference championship hunt.
Not since 2011 have the Longhorns won a regular season conference title. Texas topped teams like Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Missouri to achieve that crown. West Virginia and TCU were not yet part of the Power 5 fold. The landscape has obviously changed.
The 2010s have not been Texas most successful athletic decade. This isn’t a piece meant to litigate the issues surrounding that, but rather to point out that in only his second year at the helm of the Longhorns after period of tremendous change, David Pierce has a chance to bring to Texas something that has escaped Disch-Falk Field for most of the decade.
Texas has achieved some remarkable success this year considering half the roster is playing their first season in burnt orange. There were struggles along the way in Baton Rouge, Fayetteville, and Manhattan, but through all that Texas sits alone in second place in the conference.
A series win over TCU this weekend unfortunately does not guarantee a conference crown. Despite taking two of three from Oklahoma State earlier in the year, the Cowboys sit two games ahead of the Longhorns. Texas needs help from Texas Tech in order to reach the first of Pierce’s five end-of-season goals. A sweep by the Red Raiders and a Texas series win brings the Big 12 championship to Austin. The same occurs if Texas sweeps and Texas Tech takes two of three in Stillwater.
If one or both of those things don’t happen, the season does not suddenly become a failure. Far from it. 2018 has proven that Pierce knows how to form a lineup, a program, and overcome team weaknesses.
If Texas falls short of the conference crown but still wins the series this weekend, the possibility of hosting a regional still remains. After all, Texas would have a series win over the Big 12 champion and a road series wins against two top 30 RPI teams, part of a whopping 25 games against the top 50 in RPI.
A strong performance in the Big 12 Tournament would only boost the Longhorn résumé. Seven of eight teams that will participate in the Big 12 Tournament will have top 100 RPI rankings. A conference tournament championship, the second of Pierce’s end-of-season goals, would almost guarantee a host.
A regional in Austin would be the first time postseason play has made it to the Texas capitol since the 2014 Super Regional. It could be argued that should not have been in Austin. There would be little controversy behind the No. 2 regular season team and the tournament champion of the No. 2 RPI conference hosting. There would be none if it was the No. 1 regular season team.
Texas has lofty expectations for baseball. It should considering it has 35 College World Series appearances. Pierce is at Texas because those expectations were not consistently being met prior to him getting to Austin. In just his second year, he has the Longhorns in strong contention to be where it expects; conference champions or postseason hosts. It’s been a while since that’s been the case, at least as long as I’ve been watching.