Texas Baseball Opens Conference Play: Friday Open Thread

As the Longhorn basketball team extended its season despite trying their best to collapse down the stretch, we recognize that March Madness clearly takes precedence at the moment. As such, the majority of this baseball preview and Friday night open thread will be after the jump so as to reserve front page space for hoops.

The Longhorns welcome Kansas State to the Disch this weekend for their both teams' conference series of the season. However, the Wildcats are coming off one hell of a tuneup: they played Nebraska in their final "non-conference" midweek game before their trip to Austin, beating the Huskers 6-5 on the strength of two three-run bombs. Nebraska does not have the kind of squad they've had in the past, as they sit at 10-7 right now; still, they certainly provide a stout test by the standards of Tuesday games and K-State showed some power in the tight win.

 

On the Texas end, the most important thing to note is that the starting rotation has been set, and (at least for now) Sam Stafford is the odd man out. Taylor Jungmann will start tonight (in other news, the world is round), Hoby Milner will go on Saturday, and Cole Green closes out the weekend on Sunday. Stafford will be available for work out of the bullpen and that's likely to be his role unless and until one of the other three begins to struggle.

On Tuesday, the rest of the Texas bullpen acquitted itself well against Texas State. The committee effort held the Bobcats to one run on three hits behind a solid start by Kirby Bellow and relief appearances by Josh Urban, Andrew McKirahan (who got the win), Kendal Carrillo, and Corey Knebel (save). The one big issue in the midweek contest was that Texas stranded 11 men on base; it will be important to get more clutch hits going forward if Augieball is going to work to full effect.

Both teams enter the weekend with 12 wins, as the Longhorns sit at 12-5 and Kansas State sports a 12-4 record. However, K-State's 12 are perhaps less inspiring than some of Texas' wins. The Wildcats have played only two major-conference foes, beating Nebraska and losing 8-1 to Cal at a neutral site. Last weekend they split a four-game set with Long Island in Manhattan (Kansas, not New York). They also boast two sweeps on the season: a four game set against Western Illinois and three games on the road at Pacific.

Left fielder Nick Martini leads the team in batting average at an even .400. Despite the manner in which they came back to beat the Huskers, this is not really a power hitting squad: the two homeruns Tuesday brought the Wildcats' season total to five. Nor is this a particularly good contact-hitting team: aside from Martini, only two Wildcats hit above .300--and neither is a regular starter. Kansas State depends on pitching and defense to win ballgames. Sound familiar?

Kansas State's top two starters have been very solid so far. Tonight, lefty Kyle Hunter brings a very impressive 1.52 ERA to the hill--which would give Wildcat fans some confidence if not for that pesky 0.78 ERA of Taylor Jungmann's. (That's not a typo). Tomorrow, righty Matt Applegate will start for KSU against Texas' Milner. Applegate has been a workhorse, going long enough for the decision in all four of his starts (for a 3-1 record) and holding opponents to a .188 batting average. He does seem to struggle a bit with his control, walking 10 men in his 26.2 innings.

As for Sunday...your guess is as good as ours. Junior right-hander Justin Lindsey has started four games as well, but his 4.5 ERA and three innings per outing average may counsel against giving him a weekend start in Austin. Levi Schlick has gotten three starts, but his numbers are even worse. So it's unclear who coach Brad Hill will run out there in the series finale.

Remember, Horns fans: Kansas State has cast a multi-sport spell over Texas for the last several years, and it often makes no difference whether the Longhorns are better or worse than the Wildcats. We just can't seem to beat them. K-State's offensive difficulties should mean they'll really struggle to put runs up against Texas' elite pitching this weekend, and it the Longhorns should have an opportunity to sweep. But Kansas State will still be wearing those infernal purple uniforms, so you just never know.

Video is here, and this is your Friday night open thread.

PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Friday, March 18, 2011 - 6 p.m. Central
Texas: RHP Taylor Jungmann (4-0, 0.78 ERA)
Kansas State: LHP Kyle Hunter (2-0, 1.52 ERA)

Saturday, March 19, 2011 - 2 p.m. Central
Texas: LHP Hoby Milner (2-0, 1.96 ERA)
Kansas State: RHP Matt Applegate (3-1, 2.70 ERA)

Sunday, March 20, 2011 - 1 p.m. Central
Texas: RHP Cole Green (1-2, 3.42 ERA)
Kansas State: TBA

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