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Every single series in Big 12 play is important. They all count the same in the standings, whether early or late in the season. This weekend, Texas hosts another conference mate for a three-game set at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
“I think we play Oklahoma this weekend,” Texas head coach David Pierce said with a smirk. “So we’ll get ready for that one.”
The Sooners (12-8) travel south to Austin for their first conference series of 2021. OU entered the year unranked and has lost to opponents of varying stature including Omaha, Texas A&M, Dallas Baptist, and Texas State.
It’s the first in a string of rivalry games for Texas over the next five days, but this one takes precedent not only because of it being a three-game set, but also because it is against a conference rival. That said, playing baseball while wound up and angry, for lack of a better term, doesn’t help. Teams play better baseball loose and focused. How does Texas go about that this weekend?
“I think as a team, we’re really just looking at it as another game and another opportunity to get better,” freshman Mitchell Daly said. “It’s not too much about who we’re playing, it’s more about us.”
Being in the right mental and physical mindset is not something Pierce is overly concerned about with his team, but he knows this series is important for the program and for its fans. As a result, he expects to see as many people the athletic department will allow at the Disch for the heated series.
Last weekend at Baylor, the Bears had over 2000 in paid attendance and likely over 1000 in actual attendance at Baylor Ballpark. It was a welcome sight for both players and coaches alike, regardless of who the opponent is.
“They know what’s coming up,” Pierce said. “It’s exciting. I’d love to see a big crowd. I know our weather is going to be solid. I just want to see us go out and play clean baseball and enjoy the competition. Really just compete. Crowd always gives you a little extra. It’s fun.”
Longhorn players, as Pierce mentioned, are aware the crimson and cream are headed down IH-35, but they won’t change their preparation.
There is some anticipation, though.
“Like (Phillip) Miller always says, you don’t have a heartbeat if you’re not a little nervous,” Daly said. “It’s something that we really stress on controlling, and really just making our best effort to feel that, control it, and settle down.”
Pierce noted Oklahoma’s ability to see a lot of pitches and work counts, waiting on pitches in the zone with good plate recognition. Attacking the zone will be paramount, but players like Tyler Hardman (.474/.576/.679), Jimmy Crooks (.329/.439/.598) and Conor McKenna (.325/.436/.584) pose formidable threats to Texas’ starting pitchers Ty Madden, Tristan Stevens, Kolby Kubichek, and the rest of the pitching staff.
OU is coached by former Longhorn assistant Skip Johnson. A pitching coach by trade, Johnson always looks for the right matchup for his pitchers. He’ll march out a weekend rotation of righty-lefty-lefty counter Texas’ lineup with several left-handed hitters in important spots.
Now that more data is available on left-right splits for his hitters, Pierce may play a matchup game of his own. “You’ll see a taste of that this weekend,” he said.
The Longhorn outfield entering the season had four starting caliber players in Austin Todd, Eric Kennedy, Mike Antico, and Douglas Hodo. Todd led off and started in right nearly every game he was available.
Once Todd was lost for the season, Pierce determined Hodo was the person to play in “a tough right field” at Disch-Falk.
“When you look at EK, Antico, and Hodo, you have three center fielders and they’re interchangeable,” Pierce said. “I think all three of them can step in and play center. The reason why we keep Doug in right is similar to why we kept Austin in right, because he handles right field really well.”
Hodo not only replaced Todd in right field, but also at the top of the order. Hodo is second on the team with a .295 average, a mark comparable to Todd’s, and is 3-of-5 on the base paths.
“I would like to see him cut down on some strikeouts but continue to see pitches the way he does,” Pierce said. “He handles the drag bunt really well. He handles the hit-and-run really well. We really feel like when he gets pitches he can drive the ball in the gap. And I think he’s done great.”
“That’s a lot of pressure going from the bench to hitting the lead-off with a really good team. I think he’s handled it really well.”
Where: UFCU Disch-Falk Field
Time: Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 5:30 p.m.; Sunday at 1 p.m.
TV: Longhorn Network
Radio: 104.9 FM The Horn/1260 AM
Live stats: https://texassports.com/sidearmstats/baseball
All-time series: Texas leads, 151-62-2
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
FRIDAY–Texas RHP Ty Madden (3-1, 1.62) vs. OU RHP Wyatt Olds (1-2, 7.29)
SATURDAY–Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (2-1, 3.49) vs. OU LHP Jake Bennett (3-1, 4.32)
SUNDAY–Texas RHP Kolby Kubichek (2-2, 3.38) vs. OU LHP Braden Carmichael (4-0, 3.60)