"Worst to Fifth" doesn't have the same ring to it as "Worst to First," and the Texas regular season is therefore in the odd position of being both a significant improvement and a significant disappointment. The Longhorns finished 13-11 in Big 12 play after starting 9-3 through the first half of the conference slate, turning a potential regular-season title into a pedestrian fifth-place finish. But compared to 2013, when Texas finished last and was therefore the only team left out of the Big 12 Tournament, it's undeniably a step in the right direction.
Fifth place was assured no matter what happened Sunday, but it's nice to finish above .500rather than at it. For awhile, it looked like deja vu all over again on Sunday. Just like Saturday, Texas had a seemingly comfortable lead in the late innings. And just like Saturday, they blew it. Kansas State rallied for three runs to tie it 7-7 in the eighth, and had the bases full of purple with just one out in the bottom of the ninth. Barring a double play, it looked likely that the Wildcats would earn a second straight walkoff win to continue Texas' downward trajectory.
Luckily for Texas, that double play did come along. In the top of the tenth, Ben Johnson smashed a leadoff homerun to give Texas an 8-7 lead. After Mark Payton flied out (he did draw a walk to extend his on-base streak to 91 games), Barrera crushed his second dinger of the game for an insurance run. Texas would need it, as a Zane Gurwitz throwing error and a Ty Culbreth balk brought Kansas State back within one at 9-8. But Culbreth induces a groundout and flyout to end it, sealing the deal for Texas.
Despite the series win, there were some warning signs going forward (not counting Friday's 12-0 demolition). The Texas bullpen looks tired and overworked, probably because they are tired and overworked. That could be a problem; the bats got going this weekend, with the lowest run total being 4 in the Saturday loss, but if the 'pen can't hold a lead it's for naught even if the offense stays hot. Oh, and Kansas State was by far the worst team in the conference, so barely escaping with a series win may not be cause for chest-thumping.
There's no more watching games for what they may indicate going forward, though. Starting today, we have arrived at our postseason destination. The Big 12 Tournament has, thaknfully, dropped its silly round-robin format of years past and returned to a double-elimination, CWS-style bracket. Texas starts the journey in Oklahoma City at 7:30 PM tonight against fourth-seeded Texas Tech, whom the Longhorns took a pair from in Lubbock back when it looked like Texas might contend for the title. Winner takes on the winner of 1-seed Okie State and 8-seed OU, and the loser plays the loser of that one. The game is on Fox College Sports, and this is your open thread. Hook 'em!