Regional play returns to UFCU Disch-Falk Field Friday for the first time in seven years. Tickets have sold out, and the Friday starters for all four teams, Texas, Indiana, Texas A&M, and Texas Southern, have been announced.
Texas head coach David Pierce is focused on getting through the regional and to the round of 16. He has tried to make sure his team won’t overlook TSU, and rather than start a Tuesday arm in a game Texas is favored to win, he’s starting one of his top two in an attempt to move through the winner’s bracket.
Junior Chase Shugart was announced as the game one starter on Thursday for a variety of reasons. First, according to Pierce, Shugart has the ability to appear multiple times in a weekend.
“Probably the main reason is because Chase has the ability to come back better than any of our other starters,” Pierce said. “He can come back on a Sunday and give us two to three innings and start a Monday. He has a very resilient, bounce back mentality, as well as a rubber arm. We may have to utilize that.”
Additionally, his normal No. 1 starter is under the weather.
“Nolan (Kingham) has been sick for three days. He just got out of bed,” Pierce said Thursday afternoon. “So that made that decision really easy.”
Shugart made 16 appearances in 2018, 13 of them starts. He enters the weekend with a 4-3 record and a 4.73 ERA.
His Friday opponent, Texas Southern, is one of the best baserunning teams in the nation. The Tigers rank fifth nationally with 2.15 stolen bases per game. Five different TSU players stole double-digit stolen bases in 2018.
Shugart does not have the fastest motion to home plate. Although every pitcher’s goal is to prevent runners from reaching base, Shugart realizes he probably will have to deal with baserunners on Friday night. He said Thursday he knows what he needs to do in order to prevent the Tigers from running.
“Being able to trust myself in the zone with runners on base and letting our defense work is a big thing for me tomorrow night,” Shugart said. “They’re an aggressive team on the base paths and aggressive in the batter’s box. So being able to pitch and control my game is what I plan on doing.”
He also noted that in addition to varying times and strides toward home plate, he could rely on his catcher, junior DJ Petrinsky, to help him out. Petrinsky didn’t throw out a runner in the first five attempts against him. Since that pont, he’s thrown out 43 percent of the runners that attempted to steal a base.
The Tigers won’t start their ace pitcher in Aron Solis against the Longhorns on Friday. TSU head coach Michael Robertson said they will go with Peyton Schneider instead.
Schneider has appeared in 22 games this season but only started nine. He possesses a 4-6 record, a 5.56 ERA, a WHIP of 1.76, and opponents are hitting .312 against him.
Due to their home field being a municipal park near the University of Houston, Texas Southern plays most of their games on the road. Schneider appeared in games against Baylor, Stephen F. Austin, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri State. The Tigers lost all those games.
The Tigers do have some potent bats in the lineup, with seven players hitting above .287 on the year. Kamren Dukes leads the way batting .396 with 22 doubles, and 30 stolen bases.
In playing in a variety of large environments that weren’t the municipal MacGregor Park in Houston, Dukes said Thursday the Tigers are prepared for whatever environment they walk into Friday.
“Playing on big stages, we’re not used to it because our home field seats 200 people, but to say we haven’t been there is wrong,” Dukes said. “A lot of us are battle-tested in that situation in front of thousands of people.”
Though Dukes said the Tigers have been in these environments previously, citing experience in College Station and Baton Rouge, the Disch will be at capacity and buzzing for every game this weekend.
“I think the younger guys and the JUCO guys that have played in an environment like this, such as LSU and at Texas A&M, I think they have a feel of what’s going to happen out here,” junior Kody Clemens said. “So having our home crowd and packing the Disch is going to be a lot of fun.”
Pierce knows the value of a home crowd against a team like TSU. He also knows the value of not overlooking an opponent. The latter cost him earlier in his career.
Pierce retold the story Thursday of the defending champion Rice Owls loss to the Texas Southern Tigers in the first game of the Rice regional in 2004. Pierce was an assistant coach at Rice at the time.
That year’s third overall pick in the MLB draft, Phillip Humber, was on the mound and the Owls expected to cruise past the Tigers. Instead, the Tigers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in collegiate baseball history with a 4-3 victory.
In order to prevent history from repeating itself in Austin, Pierce just wants his team to stick to what has worked all year.
“We just want to make sure that we’re not pressing or trying to do too much,” he said. “The main thing that I told them though is that we’re going to be us. We’re going to go out and you could see us being very aggressive early in the game because that’s what we’ve always done.”
First pitch is scheduled for for 8 p.m. Friday following the game between two seed Indiana and three seed Texas A&M.