Baseball

‘Remember Arlington’: Rallying cry from Texas Baseball’s opening weekend drives gritty team to conference title

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Despite what the 40-13 record may indicate, the Texas Longhorns navigated through several rough patches in the 2021 season. Texas head coach David Pierce mentioned before the campaign began he wasn’t sure how many games his team would win or lose, but he knew it would be exciting to go to the ballpark with his team daily.

For a brief stint, he wasn’t allowed to do that aspect of his job. When temperatures around Texas dropped below freezing and cold weather shut down the UT campus in late February, his team was not allowed to enter UT facilities, including UFCU Disch-Falk Field and the J. Dan Brown Family Player Development Center. Texas went several days without an organized practice before it had to traverse up IH-35 to Arlington to face three of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference. All this was with the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Longhorns played like a team that hadn’t seen the practice field in several days. They played like a team likely with their minds on subjects outside the lines, such as the safety of their friends and family. Mississippi State, Arkansas, and Ole Miss made quick work of the Longhorns, who scored four runs across the three-game event.

Texas left with a rallying cry that carried them throughout the rest of the year all the way to the Big 12 title: Remember Arlington.

“We open up 0-3 in Arlington,” Pierce said Saturday. “It was miserable. We had a meeting then and said we’ll remember today. We’re just going to put our head down and keep working, and they’ve done an unbelievable job of doing that.”

From that point on, Texas 40 of its next 50 games. It went on a 16-game winning streak in April, including two sweeps in conference play. Throughout the season, Pierce determined what defined his team, what allowed them to reach the heights they did, and what made it fun for him to show up to work every day.

“I think my favorite word for this team is grit,” Pierce said. “They just have grit. Nothing fears them (sic). They don’t back down from anything, and they just put in the work every single day.”

Between February 24 and the series with Texas Tech, the Longhorns took series from BYU, Houston, then-No. 12 South Carolina, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas, Kansas State, Abilene Christian, and then-No. 24 Oklahoma State. They dropped one midweek game all year, a 2-0 loss at Texas A&M ahead of the long winning streak.

“We came out of Arlington thinking that we had to get a lot better,” first baseman Zach Zubia said. “Every day, we kind of joke around and say ‘Remember Arlington.’ That weekend was not fun at all. We work with that in the back of our mind every single day. We’ve got to get to the level of that competition day in and day out. I think it’s paid off.”

When the Longhorns stumbled against Texas Tech, dropping two of three to the Red Raiders, they surrendered the strong position they had at the top of the conference standings. The following week, they traveled to TCU needing to take two of three for the Big 12 title to remain a possibility.

That’s where the grit showed up again. Texas took the series from TCU with a 9-3 win on Sunday, but the results of the final weekend would determine who would take home the conference title since the Horned Frogs exited with a one game lead.

TCU entered the final day of the regular season with the same one game lead and held a four-run lead in the ninth inning of the final game of the year at Kansas State. It appeared even with the Longhorns leading by nine in the sixth inning of their Saturday game with West Virginia, TCU would hang on and win the conference title by a game.

But KSU surged back for seven runs in the ninth, culminating with a three-run walk-off home run. As soon as it happened, a standing ovation rang out at Disch-Falk Field. Texas, comfortably in the lead, needed a few more innings to lock up a share of the Big 12 title.

Texas players had been scoreboard watching in the clubhouse, and asked fans near the dugout for updates. The cascading cheers from the stands in the sixth inning told them all they needed to know about their opportunity, but they needed to complete one more task to add a 79th conference title. They needed just a bit more grit.

“All I could do is just look across the field at them and go ‘let’s just finish this thing,’” Pierce said. “They did.”

Zubia’s eighth inning sac fly brought home the run that put the game at a 10-run margin, ending the contest via run rule and earning Texas a regular season title for the second time under Pierce.

“To hoist the Big 12 trophy, holy cow!” Zubia said. “How about that? These guys deserve it. This team deserves it. This is the best Texas baseball team I’ve been a part of from top to bottom. They’re just a great bunch of guys, and I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of every single one of the people on this team.”

After locking up the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Big 12 Tournament, Texas is all but guaranteed a top eight seed in the NCAA Tournament. Texas applied to be a host site and the combination of the Disch’s 7,373-person capacity with the Longhorns’ resume means the road to Omaha should go through Austin.

UT could be seeded as high as No. 2, a testament to the team’s grit and consistency throughout the season. “I think us having that opportunity, and we’ve created that opportunity, I’m really pumped up for our team to be able to play at home,” Pierce said.

But they aren’t finished yet. Texas wants to win the Big 12 Tournament. Pierce’s team is playing good ball, but it believes it can improve even further.

“We’re not a finished product yet, and that’s the scary part,” Zubia said. “I think we can get a lot better still.”

Remember Arlington? Texas does. Memories of those three games drove them to where they are now, and the resulting grit will accompany them as far as they go in the postseason.