Desperate Texas Seeks Turnaround At TCU
When Big 12 play first began, we looked down the road at the Texas at TCU series as the type of series that could not only play a huge role in the Big 12 race, but also the national seed positioning because both programs were thought to be definite contenders. Well, this weekend’s series is still just as important as we thought it would be, but for different reasons.
Both teams are neck-and-neck in the Big 12 standings, and still legitimately in the hunt behind Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. But both teams are on different ends of the NCAA tournament spectrum right now. TCU established itself early as a legitimate top 10-type of club, and that hasn’t changed. So, the Horned Frogs certainly do have that to play for this weekend. However, a desperate Texas team is playing for its postseason life. At 22-19 with zero top 25 RPI wins and just two in the top 50, this presents the last good opportunity for the Longhorns to make a statement that would stand out, and to bring its RPI (87) out of the gutter, and into NCAA bubble territory.
The Longhorns went through a similar stretch during Big 12 play last year when they lost close games to solid opponents. The difference then was that Texas created a nice cushion to rest on by winning so many games early in the season. In 2015, the cushion is more like a bed of nails instead of soft pillows. On a similar schedule, the Longhorns have started to show signs of life recently. Earlier this week, Augie Garrido and Texas players felt like Saturday’s loss in walk-off fashion to Kansas was a rock bottom moment. Since then, they’ve responded by scoring 23 runs their last two games and hitting seven homers.
“Absolutely and it was from the bitter disappointment from the Saturday loss where they hit the walk-off home run. It’s happened to us a significant number of times and it finally hit rock bottom with all of them,” Garrido said about the series at Kansas and that carrying over to Tuesday. “The players have taken over the team in terms of inspiration and motivation and responsibility, and accountability and providing the leadership that it takes to play at the next level.”
The Texas players taking over is the exact same thing Garrido said during a similar, rock bottom-type of moment in Big 12 play. The thought was echoed by Texas players.
“I think no doubt it was a turning point,” Zane Gurwitz said Tuesday about the Saturday loss to Kansas. “We have gone through a lot this season. As baseball players and competitors, when you get the win Friday in extra innings and then to get a walk-off against you, it changed all of us. We were doing everything right that game and one hit just got us the loss. Being competitors, you can only take so much until you have to fight back and get back to just being aggressive and playing baseball.”
But is this all too little, too late, and will it be enough to knock off a really good TCU club that has plenty to play for this weekend?
Although the Longhorns have been hitting much better lately, they’ve still showed the tendency to fall into the deepest of ugly slumps, and they’re about to face one of the best pitching staffs in the nation that has swing-and-miss ability. When they do get into a slump, it goes back to the confidence at the plate, which affects how often some hitters in the Texas lineup want to chase pitches. That will be tested this weekend by the likes of Preston Morrison (1.81 ERA; .205 batting average against), Tyler Alexander (2.92 ERA and just three walks in 49.1 innings with 43 strikeouts), and Alex Young (1.67 ERA in 54.0 innings with 56 strikeouts and a .189 batting average against). And TCU doesn’t give many extra chances. The Horned Frogs have committed just 27 errors this season (.982 fielding percentage), and will be on their home turf.
In order for Texas to keep that postseason pulse beating, it’ll have to push across some early runs. Not only does it need confidence at the plate by way of early scoring, but it also can’t allow TCU’s starters to get into comfortable grooves with Riley Ferrell, who has given up just two hits all season (in 19 innings) lurking in the pen.
This weekend, expect three tight, well-played games as one team has its sights set on a national seed and the other knows it needs to win as many games as possible from here on out.