Baseball

Texas’ biggest tests begin with weekend series versus Texas Tech

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A pre-season look at Texas’ conference schedule hinted at the back half of the Big 12 slate being the challenging portion, with the non-conference series with Abilene Christian serving as a mid-season checkpoint for the Longhorns. Prior to the series with the Wildcats, Texas took weekends from teams near the bottom part of the Big 12 standings. Three of the four series after ACU – Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and TCU – would be the real tests of Texas’ status within the Big 12.

David Pierce’s team passed the first test last weekend, taking two of three from the Cowboys in their new ballpark in Stillwater. This weekend, the offensively prolific No. 11 Texas Tech Red Raiders head to Austin. They bring an impressive .283 team average to town, but Texas is ready for the challenge.

“They play in Lubbock,” Texas pitcher Ty Madden said Thursday. “Welcome to Austin. It’s a different ballpark.”

Despite the pitching friendly dimensions of UFCU Disch-Falk Field compared to Lubbock’s Dan Law Field, Texas Tech can hit the ball no matter where they play. Led by Jace Jung’s .368 average with 15 home runs and 52 RBI, the arrival of Tim Tadlock’s team marks a significant point in the race for the Big 12 crown.

“We’re preparing for a very good team,” Pierce said. “You look at their offensive numbers, and overall they’re not quite as good as in the past, but then you’ve got some guys that are real good. Then looking at their pitching numbers, when you pitch a 3.20 to a 4.00 ERA and you pitch in Lubbock, those are dang good numbers.”

Texas has won 34 of 40 games since going 0-3 in the opening series in Arlington, a winless weekend Pierce said his team still keeps on its mind with the acronym RTA (Remember the Arlington). Texas Tech also lost three games in Arlington against the same three SEC teams, but they are not riding the same hot streak the Longhorns currently are.

The Red Raiders have won series over TCU, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia, but dropped weekends to Baylor and K-State. Meanwhile, Texas hasn’t lost a Big 12 series. Still, a team with four regulars hitting over .280 will reveal plenty about how far this Texas team could go in 2021.

Longhorn players are cognizant of the implications of this series. A win against another top 15 team would solidify Texas’ case to be a national seed. The hosting process looks different this year, but Pierce said Thursday his program put in the paperwork to be a host site for the 2021 NCAA Tournament. “C’mon man. You know we applied for that,” Pierce said.

Even with an understanding of the importance of the series, Texas tries to bring the same approach that has propelled them to a No. 3 ranking on a daily basis.

“It’s a pure joy to come to the ballpark every day,” Madden said. “These guys make it easy for me to just put in the work and just working for the corps. It’s one of the funnest teams I’ve ever been on.”

However, they know the regular season ends in a few weeks and work remains for the Longhorns to defend their ranking.

“It’s just not to get too high on yourself, not to get too high on team success,” Zach Zubia said of Texas’ current mentality. “Once you start doing that, you start reading the headlines, then you’re kind of setting yourself up for failure because then you get a little complacent. Then, you start thinking that you don’t have to put as much work in because you’ve already made it this far.”

Their work and daily dedication has Texas tied for the Big 12 lead. Oh yeah, they’re enjoying it too. They know more challenges remain against the latter portion of their conference slate, but the Big 12 title remains their goal. The pursuit continues with a weekend set against the Red Raiders.

“I think when things are put together, this team is something special,” Madden said. “People need to watch out for the Horns.”