The Longhorns (20-12, 4-5) have plenty to play for this weekend against No. 16 Oklahoma (26-6, 4-2). They need to start playing at a higher level in conference play, and anytime the Red River Rivalry is involved, the stakes are higher.
Earlier this week, Texas head coach David Pierce made sure his team was well aware of the opportunity this weekend, and ahead of it the rest of the way. Rather than eventually treat a postseason discussion as ignoring the elephant in the room, Pierce elected to put it all out there for his team.
“We actually had our first real conversation about how the at-large and the automatics (bids) come into play and introduced that to this team,” said Pierce. “So, they can understand that we’re not just playing games that we’re playing for something other than just a Big 12 championship. We’re playing for different avenues to get into the postseason.”
Against Oklahoma this weekend (No. 16 in RPI), the Longhorns will begin a stretch of conference series that will define who they are, and what they’re capable of and able to play for at the end of the season.
“There’s no doubt,” responded Pierce when asked if these next two weeks can serve as defining series for his club. “We’re still in the hunt in the at-large, and we’re still in the hunt for the automatic bid. And you start looking at RPIs and quality of teams we have coming in, it’s going to give us a great opportunity to advance into those potential postseason talks. That’s what we want to be in position for, so when you look at the teams – OU, West Virginia, Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State – still left on the schedule it’s a heck of a challenge, but at the same time our destiny is in front of us.”
Acknowledging the postseason discussion head-on by introducing his team to things like RPI is something that Pierce has done in the past. However, he was a little hesitant to do it at Texas because of all the expectations and pressure on players at Texas.
“I’ve harped it really hard at the previous schools I’ve been at because I didn’t think they had a very good understanding of it. I was very hesitant here because of all the additional pressures people put on UT baseball players,” he stated. “But I just think it’s time they get a little more consumed in the day-to-day of college baseball and understanding what D1Baseball (.com) is and understanding Baseball America and Warren Nolan breaks down RPI and percentages. And that consumption gets you more involved in your trade every day, and that’s what I want.”
Texas knows the challenge ahead of it this weekend is more than just a rivalry on the diamond. It’s an opportunity to increase its postseason chances.
2017 SEASON SIMILAR TO 2014?
It was around this point in 2014 when the Longhorns were facing a lot of questions about whether they could be the kind of baseball team that could make the postseason and do damage. After a strong start to the year, Texas, in April, lost series against TCU, Oklahoma State, and opened May by losing to West Virginia. In March, it dropped a series against Kansas at home, raising concerns despite a good record.
Like this year’s version, the 2014 Longhorns weren’t playing bad baseball; they just weren’t finding ways to score enough runs to consistently win tight games in the Big 12.
“Ever since this year started I’ve been saying this team reminds me so much of 2014 because we weren’t thought of as a very good hitting team, but we had a lot of arms,” said Kacy Clemens, who was a freshman on that 2014 Omaha team. “And we played great defense. And that’s very similar to this team. I don’t know if you can tell, but when things do come together, it looks really good. It looks like we have every single piece to the puzzle. And right now some things are… sometimes we’re having pitching and we’re not having hitting; sometimes we’re having hitting and not pitching. So, if we can pull that together I think this team will be a lot like the 2014 team, and we’ll be able to make a run.”
Is Clemens right? We’ll see. Texas has a chance to prove, against good teams, who it truly is. But he’s not wrong about this – when things do come together for Texas, it has every piece to the puzzle. Whether it can get things to come together consistently remains a mystery.
SCOUTING THE SOONERS
Like Texas, Oklahoma’s offensive numbers look noticeably different in conference play compared to non-conference. Overall, the Sooners are hitting .294/.397/.436 as a team, but in Big 12 games that slash line falls to .226/.364/.339. Steele Walker (slugging .571 and hitting .349 this season) is a guy Texas will have to keep from doing damage, and Jack Flansburg has already walked 24 times this season. Oklahoma will be aggressive on the bases (46 stolen base attempts) but it hasn’t been successful at a high rate (61-percent success rate). OU’s biggest threat on the bases? Kyler Murray.
On the mound, Skip Johnson, a familiar name to Texas fans, is getting the most out of Oklahoma’s arms. The Sooners get Jake Irvin (1.16 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 31.0 innings) back this weekend, but will be without closer JB Olson and starter Devon Perez, per Kendall Rogers of D1Baseball.com. Oklahoma’s staff features power arms that will miss bats, and it is striking out over nine batters per inning.
Oklahoma’s run-differential in the Big 12 is plus-four; Texas' is plus-three.
PROJECTED ROTATION AND SCHEDULE
FRIDAY (7:00 p.m.) - Oklahoma RHP Dylan Grove (1-1, 2.88) vs. RHP Nolan Kingham (4-2, 1.02)
SATURDAY (4:00 p.m.) - Oklahoma RHP Jake Irvin (5-0, 1.16) vs. Texas RHP Morgan Cooper (3-2, 1.44)
SUNDAY (2:30 p.m.) - Oklahoma TBA vs. Texas TBA
The Longhorns have played well at home, and the Sooners have played over their heads some so far this season. Oklahoma will feel the loss of Olson at the backend of games, and Texas will find a way to take two of three from its rivals.