Photo courtsey of Schoolly_D
The team in Austin that typically beats Kansas State begins a critical season tonight against Sacromento State.
"Baseball has marked the time" proclaims Terrance Mann during the seminal moment of the classic baseball/1920s ghosts movie Field of Dreams. Never before have those words seemed so true to us as we embark on our sixth season covering Texas baseball for BON and, we imagine, for a mediocrity-sick Texas fanbase.
Our relationship with Texas baseball has taken us from winning a national title during freshman orientation and another after our junior years to the great real world beyond the 40 Acres. No matter where life has taken us has been the familiar presence of a dominant baseball program bringing us an oft criticized but rarely less-than-stellar product.
Though we write about baseball, the same could be said of every major program at the University of Texas right now. On January 5th, 2010 Texas basketball beat Arkansas to move their record to 14-0. The Horns were #2 in the country and would jump to #1 five days later after Kansas lost to Tennessee.
Texas football was in the title game and had lost only once since 2007. Texas baseball was returning a large portion of a team that had been a few good breaks away from winning a national championship in Omaha. Texas basketball appeared to have its best team since TJ Ford was on campus.
Two days later Texas lost to Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game, went 5-7 the following season and you know the rest. Texas basketball lost to Kansas State 13 days later and finished the season 7-10 over its last 17 games before falling to Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament. A win over Oakland in 2011 is Barnes' only postseason victory in nearly four years.
Texas baseball had successful seasons in 2010 and 2011 and the Horns beat Arizona State 4-2 to make the 2011 College World Series. Not much has gone right since.
Thus we enter the 2013 Texas baseball season with all three major Texas sports struggling mightily (though this should not discount the wildly successful years Texas volleyball and men's golf have had). We don't need a national title in baseball this year, but it'd be nice to see a good squad make a postseason run like they used to regularly do in our younger days.
Otherwise 2013-2014 may become the year Texas seeks to replace Mack, Rick and Augie.
On to Sacramento State.
The Hornets were 31-28 a year ago and 11-7 in the WAC which was good enough to get Reggie Christiansen named 2012 coach of the year in his third year at the program.
The good news for Sac State is that they return all of their starting pitching from 2012 and all but one of their main relievers. The bad news for Sac State is that their pitching was atrocious in 2012. Brennan Leitao and Tanner Mendonca carried the majority of the load for the Hornets a year ago went 13-13 with a 4.87 ERA as the entire pitching staff put up a 5.25 team ERA. Gross. The Hornets will start Mendonca, Leitao and Zach Morgan (0-2, 5.58 ERA in 30.2 innings pitched last year) this weekend.
Sacramento State returns two of their top three hitters in senior Andrew Ayers and sophomore Rhys Hoskins. Hoskins hit .353 and led the team with 10 home runs in 2012. Ayers numbers appear good-not-great (.336 BA, .865 OPS, 3 HRs) until one sees his .427 BA, 32 hits and 18 RBI during conference play. Ayers led the WAC in all three categories and took home WAC player of the year honors.
Where Sac State really presents a problem for Texas is with their defense. The Hornets put up a .979 fielding percentage in 2012 and ranked 5th nationally in that category. Texas will try to use their superior speed to force mistakes, which could prove challenging should the Hornets not oblige.
For Texas, the key to this season's success lies in finding production from anybody not named Weiss, Payton, Felts and Knebel. The Horns are more athletic, more experienced and deeper than they were a year ago. Will it be enough? Only time will tell.
Per the Texas baseball twitter account the Horns will start French on Friday, Thornhill on Saturday and TBA on Sunday. Weiss will allegedly start the year at second base which opens up third for competition and Hall/Walla will begin the year platooning in center field until one takes the job or someone like Ben Johnson steps up and steals it.
For those keeping track at home, the key position battles to watch this weekend will be:
Alex Silver vs. Codey McElroy at 1B
Ty Marlow vs. Madison Carter at 3B
Cohl Walla vs. Weston Hall vs. TBD at CF
TBA vs. Other Choices as Sunday starter
First pitch is at 6:30 at UFCUDFF. Catch the game on the Longhorn Network and tune in here for your open thread.