Texas Baseball Begins Conference Play Against Kansas

Photo courtesy of Schoolly_D

The Kansas Jayhawks come to town sporting a spiffy record against less than stellar competition as the Longhorns try to win their first conference series since 2012.

My friends, Abram has a son that is approaching two years old in just a few weeks. In his short time on this planet he has seen quite a bit. He has seen Barack Obama re-elected as president, he has seen both of his uncles get married, and just a few weeks ago he saw his future favorite NFL team the New Orleans Saints win a road playoff game for the first time in their history.

One thing he has not seen, however, is Texas baseball win a conference series.

Texas lost all seven conference series last season after dropping the last three series of 2012, bringing the grand total to ELEVEN straight conference series losses since the Horns took two of three from the Kansas Jayhawks in April 2012.

That's ridiculous.

The Horns will try to end the streak this weekend against Kansas.

Texas took care of business on Tuesday night, beating Texas State 6-3 thanks in large part to excellent production from Tres Barrera, Ben Johnson and Collin Shaw. Barrera finally flashed the offense we've expected of him, crushing a triple that just missed becoming his first career home run and collecting a pair of hard hit singles. It's just one game, but if/when Barrera finally turns things around we may point to this outing as the night that things started to come together for him. Johnson hit his first homer of the season and added a pair of sacrifice flies from the leadoff position, and Shaw went 2-3 with a HBP, steal and a pair of runs scored.

All in all it was a solid midweek showing for a Texas team that has now won 14 of its last 16 games.

Kansas comes to town streaking the other direction. The Jayhawks started the year 12-1 but have lost three straight entering tonight. Kansas has faced the country's 152nd strongest schedule per Boyd's World (compared to 5th for the Horns) and their three victories over Houston Baptist (ISR 128th) are the only wins the Jayhawks have so far against anybody with a winning record. Their four wins in the "Snowbird Classic" in late February came against four teams with a shocking 7-41 record this season. To their credit, the Jayhawks spent last weekend in Palo Alto where they won one extra inning game and dropped two close one-run games.

Kansas has gotten it done by being an excellent offensive staff, though Stanford's trio of freshmen largely shut down the KU bats last weekend (.200 team batting average and eight runs total). The Jayhawks have hit double digit run totals seven times this season which is the same number of times that Texas has scored five or more runs.

Junior outfielder Connor McKay has more home runs (4) than the Longhorns do as a team and eight KU hitters are batting .300 or better with at least 25 plate appearances. Kansas isn't as strong in the field, averaging 1.3 errors a game (Horns are under 1). They tend to commit the errors in bunches with only a single error in one game this year and multiple errors six times.

Where the Jayhawks really struggle, however, is on the mound.

Senior RHP Frank Duncan has alternated Saturday and Sunday starts and has been the Jayhawks' most reliable starter. Duncan was somewhat shelled in his first start against BYU but has been really good ever since (24.2, 10 H, 2 ER, 18 K, 1 BB, .202 opponent batting average). Friday starter LHP Wes Benjamin was fantastic against Stanford last weekend (7 IP, 4 H, 5 K, 1 BB, 0 ER) but seriously struggled in his previous three outings (19.1 IP, 25 H, 14 ER, 5 BB, 15 K). KU's third starter, junior RHP Robert Kahana, has struggled his last three outings (15.1 IP, 21 H, 12 ER, 5 BB, 9 K) after a good first start.

Freshman Stephen Villines has been the most reliable reliever, giving up just two hits and no runs over the first 9.2 innings of his collegiate career while striking out seven.

Texas will counter on the mound with Parker French, Dillon Peters and Nathan Thornhill as the weekend rotation. This rotation makes sense given Thornhill's experience starting Sundays, Lukas Schiraldi's struggles with the role and the emergence of John Curtiss at closer. Schiraldi will move to the weekday starting role which hopefully will enable him to improve his command and provide starting pitching depth that few rotations in the country can match.

Kansas has been a pesky team for Texas over the past few years, with the Horns and Jayhawks splitting their last 18 games over the last six years. Texas needs a series win to get its Big 12 slate off to a positive start. If the Horns can win two of three they'll be in great position heading into Lubbock in two weeks.

First pitch is at 6 PM tonight at UFCUDFF. Game is on LHN and this'll be your open thread.

Hook 'em.

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