The 2013 season will be the sixth that we have covered Texas baseball here on Burnt Orange Nation, but never before have we entered a college baseball season less sure of what we'll see on the field from Augie Garrido's bunch than we do this year. Last year's squad badly underachieved thanks to poor coaching, poor luck and devastating injuries throughout the team. The Horns had one of the best recruiting classes in the country and were subsequently demolished by the MLB draft. That having been said, there's reason for hope this season as last year's very young squad is a year older and Tommy Harmon has been replaced by the up-and-coming Tommy Nicholson as hitting coach.
On Sunday the Horns took on a Sam Houston State squad that made a surprising run to the Super Regionals last postseason. It's obviously quite difficult to know what to make of these preseason affairs, but it's hard not to see positives in Sunday's 9-3 14-inning victory.
Overall, the impression we got is that this team is going to try to win with speed and defense. This should be an improvement over last year's strikeouts and errors philosophy which failed so miserably. Sam Houston committed a bunch of errors but many of them were caused by Texas' speed and aggression on the bases causing them to attempt tough plays. Texas is going to hit a lot of singles and doubles this season and not a lot of homers, but there's hope that Augie may have put together a winning equation.
Some stream of consciousness follows:
- True freshman Chad Hollingsworth got the start for Texas and looked extremely impressive. In the first inning he got weak contact for a comebacker, a K and a fly to left for the third out. Hollingsworth threw his breaking ball for strikes and got ahead of hitters, a very nice debut for him.
- SHSU threw last year's Friday starter Caleb Smith to begin the game and the Horns led off with CF Weston Hall and DH Madison Carter, both of whom are speedy junior college transfers. Carter in particular impressed with a pair of hits in his first two at bats and scoring thanks to his speed in both instances. He also showed nice glove-work later in the game when he played 1B.
- CJ Hinojosa (Hin-o-ho-sa) made his long awaited debut and singled in his first at bat. Hinojosa also showed off his cannon in the third gunning out a Bearkat runner on an inning ending double play. Jordan Etier's reign of terror is over, folks!
- Redshirt freshman Toller Boardman replaced Hollingsworth in the third and pitched well, getting a walk, strikeout and double play. JUCO transfer Cameron Cox pitched the fourth and was the third pitcher making their Longhorns debut. Cox gave up a pair of hits before getting a strikeout and ANOTHER double play ball to get out of the trouble. Cox's second inning of work was an easy 1-2-3.
- Those who followed last year know of our semi mancrush on sophomore outfielder Taylor Stell, and his bunt single to lead off the fifth showed why. Weston Hall flashed his speed beating out a sacrifice bunt attempt to give the Horns runners at 1st and 3rd without the ball leaving the infield. With Stell, Hall and Mark Payton covering the outfield the Horns boast the speediest outfield in Austin that we can remember.
- The Horns got a leadoff single from 2B Brooks Marlow to start the 6th followed by a sacrifice bunt by Felts, single to left by Hinojosa and a hard hit sacrifice fly by 1B Alex Silver to score Marlow. A HBP and walk loaded the bases for Hall and the transfer drove in two on a Bearkats error. Hall's speed led him to steal second which caused another Bearkats error and another Texas run. All told the inning brought in five runs on two hits and a pair of Sam Houston errors.
- Dillon Peters came in for the 7th and gave up two runs on one hit but was bailed out by the fourth SHSU double play turned by Hinojosa and Marlow. The sophomore was much better getting three quick outs in his second inning of work. Peters was the first pitcher to throw today who pitched last year.
- Last year the Horns could only call on Stell and Payton to be real speedsters in the field and on the bases. Watching this exhibition it's clear that this team is MUCH faster. If Collin Shaw (5-39 a year ago) can find a place in the lineup that gives Augie at least five players (Stell, Payton, Shaw, Hall and Carter) with a lot of speed, to say nothing of Cohl Walla.
- Freshman left hander Travis Duke replaced Peters and pitched an easy 9th. After 9 innings the Horns were ahead 9-2 having given up just two runs on five hits. What can we draw from this? Well, a year ago the Horns were ahead of Houston 3-1 after 9 innings of their first exhibition game. The Horns had only seven hits while striking out seven times over the course of those first 9 innings. On Sunday they had nine runs on 12 hits. This year was much, much better. Maybe that means something, maybe it means nothing, we'll see.
- The lineups switched in the 10th and freshman backup catcher Jeremy Montalbano started things off with a single to left. Ty Culbreth pitched the 11th and used a 5-4-3 double play and nice defensive play to get the non-traditional 1-2-3 inning.
- Perhaps the best moment of the exhibition came with junior CF Cohl Walla rejoining the squad. Walla had an amazing freshman campaign in 2010 but disappointed in 2011 before blowing out his knee just before the start of the 2012 season. He promptly got hit by a pitch. With the talent and speed in this lineup it's hard to see where Walla will contribute initially, but Walla should get his chance eventually.
- Corey Knebel pitched the final two innings which doesn't necessarily indicate whether he'll start or close this year. Knebel gave up a solo homer, really the only ball that was drilled by either team all game. The Cannibal responded with a walk, K and groundout. A K, error and 6-4-3 double play in the 14th ended the game with a 9-3 victory.
- Overall it was an impressive debut for Texas. It doesn't mean the Horns are bound for Omaha but perhaps their will be reason for optimism this season. Texas baseball returns to action next Sunday with one final Fall scrimmage against Texas State at 1 PM.