AUSTIN — The total dissatisfaction not only on Texas head coach David Pierce’s face after Texas’ 9-8 loss to West Virginia, but on the faces of his players is now a very familiar sight for last season’s Big 12 champions.
The Longhorns dropped their sixth consecutive contest and conference game Saturday against West Virginia. It was Texas’ fourth straight one-run loss as a result of the opponents’ ninth-inning at bat.
So the dejection and dissatisfaction returned once again, and Pierce explained the reason behind that dissatisfaction returning Saturday was in his dugout.
“This one is about us,” Pierce said. “It’s not about West Virginia. I thought we handed them the ballgame.”
To be fair, Pierce hasn’t questioned his team’s effort, making sure to note that it’s “right.” That effort just isn’t resulting in clean baseball expected by those who saw visions of return trips to Omaha after 2018’s memorable season.
Omaha is a hard place to visit for baseball teams in late June. Texas’ 36 appearances don’t illustrate that the path is easier from Austin, but rather that the program operates at such a level where it should be attainable at least about every other year.
Right now, any visions of Omaha this team has could be attributed to hallucinogens. Texas is 5-11 in conference, one half-game behind Kansas for last in the Big 12. If the season ended today, Texas would miss the Big 12 Tournament, and despite early season successes, stay at home in the postseason for the second time in four years.
But being in a rut or in last doesn’t mean Pierce is going to alter where he wants this team to be.
“I refuse to let them run from the expectations,” Pierce said. “That’s going to maintain. If they can’t handle that, they’re in the wrong program. They’re going to have to continue to understand and build calluses because I refuse to say ‘well they’re young,’ and all that stuff. It’s time for them to understand that and make a change. That’s for everybody.”
As a head coach, Pierce has never missed the postseason. In his three years at Sam Houston State, Pierce led the Bearkats to the NCAA Tournament as an at-large bid three times. At Tulane, he once again made it in both years coaching the Green Wave, including one AAC regular season championship.
2017 was no cakewalk, as Texas finished one game under .500 in conference, but the Longhorns safely made the tournament due in part to the strength of the Big 12. The Longhorns won the regular season championship last season, Pierce’s fifth regular season title as a head coach, to ensure not only a spot in the tournament, but also a regional at home.
The expectations haven’t changed. Texas expects to make deep tournament runs every year, but that expectation is in extreme jeopardy now.
“We’re not creating enough to go our way,” Pierce said. “We have to reach down inside and go ‘I’m tired of this.’ Each individual has to do that. It’s not anything more.”
Despite the struggles, despite being just three games over .500, despite everything, hope still remains in the Texas dugout. Sophomore Zach Zubia, who went 3-for-3 with a home run Saturday, said he still thinks his team has an opportunity to turn things around, but made before doing so made sure to note the obvious. “It sucks,” he said.
“We feel like we’re going to turn the corner soon,” Zubia said. “Everyone can feel it. It’s there. It’s almost arriving. We’ve just got to keep on coming, doing our job at the field every day, and it’s going to turn.”
There’s still belief, but belief doesn’t win baseball games. That is only accomplished by proper execution in all three phases, something that for the past month has eluded the Longhorns on a consistent basis.
Pierce said “we’re just not a very good team right now.” Zubia mentioned he believed a win, one singular win, would go a long way toward getting the proverbial monkey off Texas’ back.
But, if the last four, or last six, or last 14 are any sign, getting that one, needed win will continue to be a tall task.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Pierce said. “Got to keep practicing and trying to get better.”