Texas coaches and players have consistently said throughout the year the difficult non-conference schedule that included hosting Stanford and trips to LSU, Arkansas and Texas A&M were in order to prepare the team for postseason environments against postseason-caliber opponents.
The Longhorns showed signs of improvement in that regard as the season progressed but they own a 1-5 record against those teams in addition to a disappointing conference series loss at Kansas State.
If Texas wants to prove these failed non-conference tests and road conference struggles won’t be an issue in the postseason, then the Longhorns need to win this weekend’s conference series at No. 16 Oklahoma
L. Dale Mitchell Baseball Park is sure to be another one of those tough environments. Not only is it an important matchup in conference with the third-place Longhorns trailing the conference leading Sooners, Saturday is an eventful day in Norman.
A statue honoring former football head coach Bob Stoops is set to be unveiled, country star Trace Adkins is performing in Gaylord Family Oklahoma Stadium, and the Sooners football team is holding its spring game at 1:15 p.m. leaving plenty of time for fans to make it to the 8 p.m. first pitch.
That’s all news to some Longhorns.
“I couldn’t even tell you they had a spring game going on,” junior Josh Sawyer said on Wednesday.
Despite being unaware of what’s going on north of the Red River, the Longhorns know they’ll be playing baseball with raucous fans in attendance. Texas is coming off a game against Texas A&M where it battled back but came up short in one of the most hostile environments it will face all season. With that in mind, the Longhorns believe they can play at a high level no matter where they are.
“We hope our offense keeps building off of that going into this weekend with a Big 12 road series coming up,” junior Chase Shugart said Wednesday. “Being able to come from last night’s environment going into Norman, I feel like we’re going to be able to handle it a whole lot better than what people think we’ll be able to do.”
Texas is aware of what a series win could mean. It would be a huge boost to its RPI ranking and would guarantee that Texas head coach David Pierce’s team would have the most conference wins exiting the weekend.
“It’s time to make a statement and try and get a host for a regional,” Sawyer said. “This would be a massive win in a series for us to host a regional.”
Talking about things like hosting a regional and RPI is very different than other coaches’ preference to have a “bunker mentality” or eliminate the possibility of “rat poison” ever reaching the ears of a player.
Pierce, however, thinks his players need to know that sort of information and shared with his players what winning this series would do as far as conference standings.
“The beauty of it is if they’re paying attention and they’re in this collegiate baseball industry, and they don’t know that, then I haven’t done a good job of educating them up to this point,” Pierce said.
His players did know.
“We know what’s on the line,” Shugart said. “We try not to pay too much attention to it, but we know what’s there and we know what we’re playing for. It’s sticking with our game plan and going forward.”
“This will be a big series matchup for us,” Sawyer added. “It will be big for our résumé if we get a couple dubs.”
“They’re ahead right now, so obviously we need to take two out of the three,” junior Kody Clemens reiterated.
Knowing what’s at stake in conference and for the season, the Longhorns should know what they’re walking into. The younger or first-year players like Kamron Fields, Masen Hibbeler, Duke Ellis, DJ Petrinsky, Matteo Bocchi, Zach Zubia and several others now have experience under their belt in regional type environments.
Can they still blame inexperience?
“I don’t think it is an excuse anymore,” Sawyer said.