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Friday marks Opening Day for the 2018 Texas Longhorns baseball season, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. With rainy forecasts for the entire weekend and cold weather likely each day, it might make a difference to a lot of baseball teams on the precipice of the season. Not so for Texas head coach David Pierce’s squad.
“We’ve been playing in it for a month,” Pierce said Wednesday. “Layer up, keep yourself moving, and a heaters in the dugout.”
Texas’ battle against the weather may not be the most important one they’ll have all season, or even in the upcoming two-week stretch of the schedule. However, the team’s reaction to a month of dreary, often freezing, Austin weather has been encouraging for the Longhorns’ skipper heading into his second year.
“I’ve been just really turned on about their attitude,” Pierce said. “They could easily come out, put their hands in their pocket, stand around and try and get through it, but they’ve had a lot of energy. That’s encouraging. I know they want to be here. I think our pitching is coming along. I’ve seen some really great outings from some freshmen, getting our veteran guys in their routine and ready to go.”
Pierce’s first year ended in the final game of the regional round, capping off a 39-24 season that included an 11-12 conference record. Texas’ standard is of course to make it to the College World Series in Omaha, something they haven’t done since 2014.
Every team in the country has the same goal of reaching the final eight, but Pierce wanted to find out how his team planned on getting there. For him, that was the team’s mission.
“When you look at a goal, it’s about trying to reach something,” Pierce said. “When you look at a mission, it’s what I’m going to do. It’s a task given to me.”
The leadership that will help Pierce try to attain that goal comes from the team defense. More specifically, it comes from the only player returning to the same position he played last season, sophomore shortstop David Hamilton.
When asked about a stolen base number for the speedy San Marcoan, Pierce joked he wanted Hamilton to steal 105 bases. He did mention that Hamilton is a leader for a team with almost half a roster of new faces.
“We have a lot of guys that chirp a lot, but the one guy I think would be David Hamilton,” Pierce said. “He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, like EF Hutton, everybody listens.”
Pierce mentioned that last season he threw Hamilton into the shortstop role because he wanted not only to go young at the position, but to also see what his mental makeup was.
Hamilton struggled at the plate in his freshman season, batting just .218. Despite that poor posting, he impressed Pierce with how he handled himself on the field, and even more so with how he’s prepared for the season.
“He’s one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached because when you can go out and play that kind of defense every day and struggle as much as he did offensively, it’ll tell you his mental toughness,” Pierce said. “Now, his body’s a little stronger. He’s more confident in his swing, but he hasn’t lost his defense. We’re going to start him in the one-hole. He’s improved that much.”
Several weeks ago, there was still some uncertainty as to what the outfield would look like and who would start out behind the plate. Pierce said Wednesday the outfield fans would see on Opening Day would be sophomore Austin Todd in left, junior college transfer Duke Ellis in center and junior Tate Shaw in right.
Pierce had previously mentioned that the competition behind the plate was between junior Michael McCann and junior college transfer DJ Petrinksy.
On Wednesday, Pierce said the spot would go to the JUCO.
“Right now, I’d give DJ the nod,” Pierce said. “He really brings a calmness to him.”
Texas’ opening opponent of the 2018 season is one they faced last year, the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns. Texas lost to ULL last year in a midweek matchup in Sugar Land.
“They’re good,” Pierce said. “Tony (Robichaux) does a great job with them. They do a great job on the mound. They lost a few of their everyday guys, but they’ve got a very good approach. They can put the ball in play with their speed guys and their power guys have a chance to drive it out. It’s what we’re preparing for, and I think it’s going to be a great series.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns are a quality opponent for a season-opening series, but for Pierce and his team, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing. They’re just excited the season is here.
“The excitement of Opening Day is the best,” Pierce said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re opening up against Our Lady of the Foul Line or a team like Louisiana-Lafayette. It’s Opening Day.”
Junior Nolan Kingham will start when the Longhorns open their season Friday at 6:30 p.m.