Baseball

Fullerton preview: Second base solutions

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Thirteen games into the season, Texas head coach David Pierce is well aware he needs more production from whoever he plays at second base. Brenden Dixon, Lance Ford, and Murphy Stehly received chances to play the spot, but thus far the position has offered little at the plate.

“I think right now you’re probably looking toward trying to get settled at second base,” Pierce said Thursday. “I like what Cam (Williams) is doing at third. I really like what Trey (Faltine) is doing. Just trying to find out who wants to take that job at second base is the biggest concern right now.”

Pierce mentioned its Stehly’s turn to have an opportunity at the spot, but a return from injury by one of his other infielders could produce another option at second base.

Andre Duplantier II has impressed on the mound, but before a hand injury suffered in the preseason, he was one of the leading candidates to play third base. In the wake of the injury, that role went to Stehly. With Duplantier closer to being able to swing a bat and Williams providing a reliable bat in the infield, those two could offer a solution to Texas’ second base problem.

Williams is slashing .280/.357/.440 in seven games. Pierce described him as a first to show up, last to leave “field rat.” He’s added seven RBIs and a walk-off home run to clinch a sweep versus Boise State. His defense has been a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff, and that paired with his switch-hitting has kept him near the top of the lineup in recent games.

He was versatile enough out of San Jacinto College to play in multiple infield spots. With Duplantier’s full return imminent, a solution for Pierce could be moving Williams to second and playing Duplantier at the hot corner.

“That’s something that we’ve looked at and something we’ve already worked on to be a potential combination if Dre comes back healthy and looks good swinging the bat,” Pierce said.

TEXAS (10-3, 0-0) vs. CAL STATE FULLERTON (4-9, 0-0)

March 6-8, 2020
Where: UFCU Disch-Falk Field
Time: Friday at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday at 12 p.m.; Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
TV: Longhorn Network
Radio: 104.9 FM The Horn/1260 AM
Live stats: https://texassports.com/sidearmstats/baseball
All-time series: Tied, 17-17

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS

FRIDAY–
Texas Jr. RHP Bryce Elder (2-1, 2.33) vs. CSF Jr. RHP Tanner Bibee (1-2, 1.93)
SATURDAY–Texas So. RHP Ty Madden (3-0, 1.71) vs. CSF So. RHP Tanner Luckham (2-0, 1.80)
SUNDAY–Texas So. RHP Coy Cobb (0-0, 2.51) vs. CSF So. RHP Joe Magrisi (0-2, 3.63)

NOTABLE TITANS

Leading hitter – Zach Lew – .360/.475/.440

Friday night guy – Tanner Bibee – 1-2, 23.1 IP, 19 H, 3 BB, 5 ER, 27 K, CG

Head coach – Rick Vanderhook

Pierce and Vanderhook, or Hooky as Pierce referred to him, have a longstanding relationship going back to Pierce’s days at Houston and Rice when the two would trade scouting reports via fax.

“Spent a little time in Omaha just talking the game,” Pierce said. “I go out (to California) every summer for recruiting, so I run into him. He’s just a baseball junkie. A guy that’s a throwback guy, hard-nosed. He’s going to maximize his players.”

But the head coaching connections don’t stop there. Obviously, both Fullerton and Texas have a connection to the late Augie Garrido.

Garrido won three national championships as head coach of Fullerton and two while leading the Longhorns. This series wasn’t scheduled with Garrido’s memory as the focus – Pierce wanted to replace Stanford with another west coast team – but the connection won’t go unmentioned this weekend.

“There’s a few surprises,” Pierce said.

TAKING A BREATH

Last season’s events don’t need another rehashing, but it’s worth noting Texas is trying to make sure they don’t repeat the same mistakes that resulted in 27-27.

Like the 2020 team, there were several young contributors on the 2019 team. They started out of the gate well, but tumbled toward the finish.

Pierce recognized a need to better manage the workload for his younger players. Despite players like Faltine, Douglas Hodo, and Silas Ardoin playing plenty of baseball growing up, none of them have experienced anything like 13 college games in 20 days.

So as a way to take some of the mental and physical pressure off his team, the Longhorns had a lighter practice day on Wednesday.

“Yesterday, if you would have come out to practice you saw pitchers taking batting practice,” Pierce said. “You saw infielders shagging balls in the outfield if they were moving. You saw pitchers and outfielders turning double plays. Just kind of ‘hey let’s catch our breath and relax.’”

It’s a step that resonated with one of his team leaders.

“For us to kind of get off our feet a little bit, get a mental break, we had a long hitters yesterday just talking about what we’ve been doing well and what we haven’t been doing well,” Zach Zubia said. “Just talking. I think communication has been really, really good so far about what we need to work on as a team, as individuals, and having an open forum. That’s been really helpful for us.”

A sparkling new facility with the latest technological advancements makes taking steps like this easier. Players can still evaluate information, hit inside, and work while balancing that with a lighter day on the field.