Baseball

Baseball preview: UT’s focus on self ahead of telling games versus SEC opponents

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So far, Texas hasn’t faced a difficult schedule. In early season RPI rankings via Warren Nolan, Texas has played teams ranked 257th, 140th, 168th, 78th, and 64th. This weekend, they’ll face LSU, Arkansas, and Missouri in Houston during the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park.

Arkansas is ranked sixth in D1Baseball.com’s most recent top 25. LSU is the No. 11 team in the same ranking. The Razorbacks and the LSU Tigers will serve as Texas’ first major test of the season, but David Pierce’s team isn’t worried about who they’re playing. They are emphasizing a focus on playing their own game and not their opponent.

“I’m not even going there, honestly,” Pierce said Wednesday when asked if this weekend would serve as a measuring stick. “I feel like we’ve played very solid baseball. My goal is just to continue to play solid baseball. If we go in there and do well by results, that’s awesome. If we have a setback by results, I’m still looking at the big picture of how we’re improving and progressing.

“I’m real curious just to see how we go in and if we’re able to maintain the same mentality that we’ve had.”

Pierce said he and his coaching staff have tried to drive home the idea of ‘it’s about us’ to his team this season. He knows there might be some nervousness, especially with the possibility of 20,000 or more fans in the stands.

That’s worked so far for a lineup filled with first year players, but it will be put to the test this weekend.

“Now we have to learn to slow that game down again and trust the preparation and work that you’ve put in,” Pierce said.

Texas swept LSU in Austin last year before the 2019 season took a turn for the worse. Pierce’s team will likely face Cole Henry, who has a 1.00 ERA over 9.0 innings pitched. Opponents are batting .194 against the staff ace of a strong pitching staff.

“It looks like they’re off to a great start on the mound,” Pierce said. “He’s doing really well. Then defensively, they’re sound. It looks like they’ve got a handful of guys that have swung the bat well, but they potentially have come out a little bit slow swinging the bat.”

UT’s Saturday opponent was on the schedule last year, too. Arkansas split a midweek series with the Longhorns at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Some of the players who hit the Longhorns well when they played the Hogs in Omaha in 2018 will be in Houston.

UA is hitting .314 as a team in 2020. Five different players with 20 or more at bats have on base percentages above .375. Heston Kjerstad is slugging an astronomical .929. Zack Gregory reaches base 62 percent of the time.

Patrick Wicklander is likely to toe the rubber Saturday. In 11.0 innings this season, Wicklander is 2-0 with 14 strikeouts. Opponents have managed just four hits and three walks versus the Saturday star.

Missouri is a mystery, with Pierce admitting he doesn’t know a whole lot about the SEC East program. They enter with a 4-4 record, and while the Tigers are hitting .271 as a team, opponents are topping that with a .279 average.

They’ll learn more about the Razorbacks and Missouri Tigers when they’re playing Oklahoma and Baylor in the College Classic this weekend.

Still, it’s about controlling what they can control. At Texas, that starts on the mound.

“We talk a lot about three things pitching for Texas; being able to control the running game, being able to field your position, and being able to repeat your best pitches and not trying to make your best pitches better than they already are,” Pierce said. “If you can do that, pitching is relevant. If you can repeat good pitches, you’re going to have success.”

MINUTE MAID MEMORIES

David Pierce is a Houston native, as are several members of the Texas roster. Many grew up attending games at the home of the Houston Astros.

Favorite memories at the Juice Box?

“My favorite would probably be most recently when I went back with Sam Houston State,” Pierce said about the 2014 College Classic. “We beat up TCU and we beat up Tech. Then, it was Morgan Cooper’s coming out party. He came in in relief and they beat us by a run on Sunday.”

Freshman shortstop Trey Faltine, from Richmond, saw history at Minute Maid.

“I was at the game when Craig Biggio hit his 3000th hit,” Faltine said. “I would say that one because I was at the game.”

Sophomore starter Coy Cobb’s memory has a slightly nefarious slant to it.

“We actually skipped school during the (2017 ALDS) when they played Boston, and saw Jose Altuve hit three home runs off of Chris Sale,” Cobb said. “That’s probably my favorite one there.”

Overall, it’s an event Pierce is excited Texas is returning to for the first time since 2014.

“The tournament itself is just a great venue, a great environment for our team,” Pierce said. “I remember playing Texas with Rice on a Friday night with 20,000-25,000 people there. It’s hard to match it. It’s in a great location for us with recruiting. We have a great fan base there, and the weather should be good. I think our kid are going to be really pumped to play there.”

TEXAS STARTERS

Friday – Bryce Elder, 2-0, 1.38 ERA, 13.0 IP, 17 K, 2 BB
Saturday – Ty Madden, 2-0, 0.60 ERA, 15.0 IP, 14 K, 2 BB
Sunday – Coy Cobb, 0-0, 2.89 ERA, 9.1 IP, 7 K, 3 BB