The Texas Longhorns enter the 2009 NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed in the nation and will be hosting a regional in Austin. The Horns will welcome into town Texas State, Boston College and Army and will begin with a 6 p.m. game Friday against the Black Knights.
The Longhorns won the Big 12 regular season and tournament titles this season and are now looking for their seventh College World Series crown. But even in their position as the No. 1 overall seed in the nation, Texas does not have an easy path to Omaha.
“As for the No.1 seed, the last time the No. 1 seed won (the College World Series) was in 1999 so forget about that. There’s no easy path in this,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido.
The first obstacle the path for Texas (41-13-1) is the Black Knights of Army, who are the fourth seed in the Austin Regional. On the other side of the regional is No. 3-seed Boston College and No. 2-seed Texas State.
The Longhorns have the advantage playing at home and are the higher seed, but Texas has still struggled to get out of the regional round recently, even when at home. Despite hosting two out of the last three seasons, the Horns have fallen in the regional round three years in a row. But after Thursday’s practice at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Thursday, most Texas players said they weren’t concerned about the previous struggles, including those who sat through each of those regional exits.
“We can’t worry about that. We just have to go out there and do our jobs,” said senior closer Austin Wood.
AUSTIN REGIONAL SCHEDULE (All times are Central)Friday, May 29Game 1 1 p.m. #3 seed Boston College vs. #2 seed Texas StateGame 2 6 p.m. #4 seed Army vs. #1 seed TexasSaturday, May 30Game 3 Noon Loser Game 2 vs. Loser Game 1Game 4 6 p.m. Winner Game 2 vs. Winner Game 1Sunday, May 31Game 5 Noon Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4Game 6 6 p.m. Regional Championship Game – Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5Monday, June 1Game 7 ** 1 p.m. Second Regional Championship Game – Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5** played if Game 5 winner wins Game 6
Opponent Capsule: Army
Regional Seed: No. 4
Record: 34-19 (Patriot League Champions)
Head Coach: Joe Sottolano
Team Batting Average: .334
Team ERA: 4.98
Ace: Matt Fouch (7-3, 4.30 ERA, 63 SO, 38 BB)
Big Stick: Clint Moore (.393 BA, 17 2B, 5 3B 10 HR, 60 RBI)
Texas’ first opponent is one that’s been on the rise, as of late. The Black Knights have only made three trips to an NCAA regional, but they’ve all been this decade (2000, 2004, 2005). The Patriot League Champions’ 34 wins is the third-highest single season total in school history. Sottolano has been a big reason for the Black Knights’ rise. In his nine years as Army’s coach, Sottolano has directed his team to 20-victory seasons, three 30-win seasons and four Patriot League titles.
Even though Army is the bottom seed in the regional, Texas is expecting a fight.
“I would say they know how to handle environments by their training,” said Garrido. “As individuals, they understand how to stay focused and how to be mentally tough and probably not intimidated.”
It’s worth noting Army suffered four of its six NCAA Regional losses by two runs or less, including a trio of one-run setbacks. They’re not an elite college baseball program yet, but the Black Knights tend to stay in the game.
Opponent Capsule: Boston College
Regional Seed: No. 3
Head Coach: Mikio Aoki
Team Batting Average: .311
Team ERA: 4.79
Ace: Pat Dean (6-4, 3.36 ERA, 85 SO, 15 BB)
Big Stick: Tony Sanchez (.355 BA, 18 2B, 14 HR, 48 RBI)
Boston College has been to the College World Series four times, but the last was in 1967 and that was also the last time they made it to the postseason at all, meaning it’s been 42 years since the Eagles were last selected to the championship field.
It’s been an up and down season for Boston College and they finished out the regular season losing six of their last nine conference games. But after a strong showing in the ACC Tournament with wins over Miami and Georgia Tech, the Eagles made it into the NCAA Tournament.
Given how hard Boston College fought through a tough ACC just to make it to the tournament, even if they don’t advance just making into the field of 64 is a huge accomplishment.
“I am absolutely elated,” said fifth-year senior and co-captain Harry Darling in a release from the school. “I shed a tear or two when we were all jumping around.”
Opponent Capsule: Texas State
Regional Seed: No. 2
Record: (Southland Conference Reg Season Champions)
Head Coach: Ty Harrington
Team Batting Average: .336
Team ERA: 4.83
Ace: Kane Holbrooks (10-1, 3.34 ERA, 56 SO, 19 BB)
Big Stick: Paul Goldschmidt (.353 BA, 19 2B, 17 HR, 85 RBI)
There are plenty of connections between the Longhorns and Bobcats and it’s not just because the two teams have already played this season. Ty Harrington, Texas State’s sixth-year head coach, played at Texas under coaching legend Cliff Gustafson. Harrington was a member of Texas’ teams that advanced to the College World Series in 1984, 1985 and 1987 and served as team captain on the 1987 Longhorn squad. Adding together his college playing career, his previous coaching stops and his six years in San Marcos, Harrington has been to the NCAA postseason as a coach or player in 20 of his 22 seasons.
Needless to say, he’s had some success on the diamond.
But the Bobcats didn’t have as much success against the Horns’ in their two meetings this season, especially in the most recent.
Early in the 2009 season, Texas State almost pulled off an upset over the Horns. Texas was trailing 5-3 at Texas State heading into the seventh inning, but a homerun from Brandon Belt and back-to-back RBI singles from Russell Moldenhaur and Travis Tucker quickly erased the deficit, giving Texas the 6-5 win.
The second meeting was simply a rout. Texas beat Texas State 12-2 at the Disch. The Bobcats didn’t score a single run after the second inning. The Longhorns, meanwhile, scored runs in all but two innings they sent batters to the plate.
The Horns will be hoping for much of the same if they meet with the Bobcats this weekend.