Ahead of the regional in Austin, plenty of storylines to watch

David Pierce, Texas baseball (Will Gallagher/IT)
David Pierce, Texas baseball (Will Gallagher/IT)

AUSTIN — On Sunday, the Longhorns found out they would be hosting a regional at UFCU Disch-Falk Field for the first time in seven years. On Monday, they found out the regional had the possibility to be one of the most exciting ones in Austin in years.

Texas was named the 13th overall seed in the NCAA baseball tournament and learned Indiana, Texas A&M, and Texas Southern would head to Austin. The Big 12 regular season champions earned the right to host, but they didn’t know they had earned the right to possibly face one of their biggest rivals.

“Basically, what I said is postseason back at The Disch the way it’s supposed to be,” Texas head coach David Pierce said Monday. “Congratulations. You truly earned it, so let’s enjoy it.”

After A&M appeared as the 3-seed in the selection show, the storylines formed quickly. Texas and A&M played each other earlier in the year with the Aggies winning 6-5 in College Station on April 10. Players on both teams began to exchange messages in excitement for a matchup that might not even happen.

“I know Baine Schoenvogel,” junior Kody Clemens said. “I know Christian Roa, he went to my high school and he’s a pitcher. Actually, literally as soon as we found out, Baine texted me and was like ‘uh oh.’ Most of the guys that I’m friends with out of high school went to Texas and came here or went to A&M, or other places. Most of them went to A&M that I know and I’ve got a lot of friends on that team.”

Clemens’ response to Schoenvogel? “I was like ‘let’s go, can’t wait to see y’all.’”

Despite the rivalry-driven excitement, the first matchup for the Longhorns on Friday is 4-seed Texas Southern, winners of the SWAC tournament. The Longhorns and the Tigers played each other once this season with Texas winning a 10-2 game in Sugarland on April 18.

There’s a strong possibility Texas could be playing the Aggies and Pierce knows that his team likely will think about that possibility. His job, however, is to get his Longhorns to focus on taming the Tigers.

“It’s not about Texas and A&M,” Pierce said. “It’s about Texas playing Texas Southern, and four really good teams in the regional. If we don’t know how at this point to play one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time, then we’re not ready for this regional.

“So, I hope by now they’ve understood what some of the lumps that we’ve taken, maybe where we’ve not been prepared mentally, to understand that we have to be prepared for any team we play moving forward.”

Pierce was part of a team in 2004 that overlooked Texas Southern. Following a national championship at Rice, the Owls were matched up with TSU in the regional round. The Tigers put the Owls into the loser’s bracket. That result has “haunted us for years,” Pierce said.

If the Aggies weren’t enough motivation, one of Texas’ most famous living alumni tried to do his part. Matthew McConaughey spoke to the team prior to the Monday selection show in order to prep the team for the postseason.

“Matthew McConaughey said it, let the game come to us, rather than pressing and trying to do too much,” junior Masen Hibbeler said. “The atmosphere is going to take care of itself. If we can just play our game we will be just fine.”

Texas has been the beneficiary of plenty of rest following a quick exit from the Big 12 Tournament over the weekend. A loss to Kansas followed by a loss to Oklahoma sent the top-seeded Longhorns packing early.

Despite troubles hitting in Oklahoma City, there’s confidence that the offensive issues will be sorted out before three teams make their way to Austin.

“We couldn’t get the job done hitting-wise,” Clemens said. “Everybody’s kind of looking past that. We’re learning from it. We’re looking forward to the regional.”

The regional serves as Texas’ next step in the postseason following the Big 12 tournament. Texas hasn’t been here in this situation in seven years, but there’s a goal for the Longhorns past winning in Austin. Pierce wore the embodiment of that goal Monday with his gold 2003 national champions watch.

“It’s my favorite watch,” Pierce said. “It’s a national championship watch, and I wear this in the postseason every year and I want the players to know what it stands for and understand there is a goal out there. They get all that, but it’s just a symbol I guess for them to understand anything is possible.”