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Texas is off for finals this week a few days after its game with Texas Southern was called due to rain in the bottom of the fourth. Meanwhile, other series around the country have major implications on the Longhorns’ quest for a top eight seed.
In addition to its pursuit of a national seed, Texas is also in a hotly contested battle with the TCU Horned Frogs for the Big 12’s regular season crown. The Longhorns took two of three in Fort Worth but remain one game back of TCU in the standings.
There will not be any resolution to the conference title picture this weekend, as Texas is off and TCU welcomes UL-Monroe for a non-conference series. ULM is 134th in RPI and any dropped game, however unlikely, will ding TCU’s RPI.
Only six Big 12 teams are in action for conference slates, including Texas Tech traveling to Oklahoma, Kansas State visiting rival Kansas, and Baylor heading to Stillwater for a series with the Cowboys. West Virginia is also in action, hosting Miami of Ohio for two games.
Looking ahead to next weekend, Texas welcomes the Mountaineers, who are 7-14 in conference and 18-23 overall this season. In a corresponding series, TCU heads to Manhattan to finish the season with KSU. The Wildcats aren’t a strong team at 7-11 in conference and 28-18 overall, but they do boast one of the better pitchers in the Big 12 in Jordan Wicks.
With a 5-2 record, a 3.48 ERA, and a 1.52 WHIP, Wicks could do Texas a lot of favors by taking game one of the series with the Frogs. A win from Texas in reply would create a tie atop the Big 12, seemingly reminiscent of a similar scenario that took place in 2018.
Important matchups are also on tap nationally this weekend, specifically within the SEC. No.1 Arkansas heads to No. 4 Tennessee in what is arguably the series of the weekend. Both teams are 17-7 in conference and lead their divisions.
Another major SEC series involves the No. 2 Vanderbilt Commodores, who travel to Oxford to face No. 18 Ole Miss. Should the Rebels sneak a couple past Vanderbilt, it may help Texas move up in RPI.
Both Arkansas and Vanderbilt have far and away been the top two teams in the nation this season and face unique challenges this weekend on the road. Meanwhile, Texas is able to sit back and watch, and hope to reap the benefits before finishing the regular season with a midweek matchup versus Rice and the WVU series.
The way I see it: The Big 12 will have two national seeds between Texas, TCU, and Texas Tech. One of those teams is getting left out of the super regional “host” conversation but should still receive a top 16 seed.
Even if TCU hangs on to the Big 12 regular season crown outright, a Texas series win versus WVU should not jeopardize Texas’ status as a national seed. A loss of the series could make the committee think long and hard about putting the Longhorns within the top eight.
After the F-grade season that was 2019, Texas is 52-15 since the beginning of the 2020 season.
David Pierce deserves a huge amount of credit for it. He took on a decent-sized risk when he fired Phil Haig and moved Sean Allen to pitching coach to make room for Troy Tulowitzki.
Tulowitzki’s impact on the program has been remarkable. The plate approach in 2019 was one of the worst for a Texas baseball team in years, with the team’s .250 batting average being the lowest mark of a full-season Pierce team at Texas.
This year, the team average is .280, the highest in the Pierce era. The team on-base percentage is .392, also the highest in the Pierce era.
Letting Haig go could not have been easy for Pierce, Allen, and assistant Phillip Miller. That quartet was together for yearly NCAA Tournament appearances at Sam Houston State, Tulane, and Texas. But after an F season, something had to change.
Credit to Pierce for making the difficult decision, and credit to Huston Street for helping Tulowitzki find his way to Austin.
There are not very many nits to pick for a team that has surged into the top five, is a game out of the lead of the conference, and likely will be a national seed. But there is one.
During that 2019 season, as baseball players and coaches typically do during slumps, Pierce wanted to change things up to get the mojo working. Instead of sending Allen out to coach third, Pierce started to do it himself.
Ultimately, it did little to change the outcome of the 2019 season, but when 2020 rolled around Pierce went to the third base coach’s box once again. He followed suit in 2021.
Several times throughout the 2021 season, Pierce has sent a runner home from third who proceeded to get thrown out by several steps at home plate. One of the worst offenses occurred in Tuesday’s no contest with Texas Southern. An errant throw slipped away from the Tiger first baseman, and Ivan Melendez motored from first to third.
The throw was errant but did not get particularly far from the fielder in short right, yet Pierce waved Melendez home trying to achieve the 270 foot score. Though he has good speed for his size, it’s tough to say Melendez has good speed.
The throw was on target, in time, and Melendez was retired by several feet.
So what are the solutions? Well, options are limited.
Miller has been the first base coach ever since Pierce arrived at Texas. His aggressiveness or lack thereof is unknown. Allen is now the pitching coach, and his presence is needed in the dugout to converse with pitchers between innings.
Tulowitzki connects with hitters about their approach at the plate, and is far more valuable prepping them on a consistent basis in the dugout than only speaking with baserunners once they reach third base.
All in all, it’s an issue Pierce (the third base coach) has to improve on to help Pierce (the manager).
The NCAA announced Friday which of the 20 applicants could potentially be one of the 16 host sites for NCAA regionals. More details, and an explainer, here.
UFCU Disch-Falk Field made the cut. This does not mean Texas has “officially” been selected as a regional host or a national seed, but that the Disch has a chance to be (and will likely be) a regional host.
Some good news on the injury front for the Longhorns popped up on social media over the past few days.
Redshirt freshmen Chase Lummus and Andre Duplantier both underwent elbow surgery during the offseason. The duo posted pictures on Instagram of them working in the Texas bullpen.
Lummus is a left-hander from Godley, and Duplantier is a right-hander/infielder from Humble.