Know Your Horns: Reviewing Texas Baseball 2014

USA TODAY Sports

Great news: Texas baseball is headed back to the College World Series! And with the stakes now ramping up, the baseball team is likely to see a whole new set of eyes. Well don't you worry, we'll get you up to speed in time.

2013 was a bad year for Texas baseball. A 27-24-1 record and a conference season without a single series win kept the Horns from postseason play entirely. While some saw the season, and the change at Athletic Director, as a sign that the Augie Garrido era may be coming to an end, others saw a young roster that could improve its hitting in another season under new hitting coach Tommy Nicholson.

How the season has gone...

Coming off the difficult 2013, the Horns got off to a solid 14-4 start, including wins against Rice, Houston, and Stanford. However, two losses in a home series against Kansas got the conference season off to an ominous start, a series which Texas only scored 5 total runs on the weekend. But a Sunday rubber match in Lubbock against the Red Raiders kick started the Horns through the start of conference play. While Texas led the entire game, Tech scored 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th (including a steal of home), sending the game to extra innings. In the 12th inning, Madison Carter would nail a 2 run triple and score on a Brooks Marlow single to give Texas a 5-2 lead. John Curtiss would hold that leave, giving Texas its first conference series win since 2012.

The momentum would carry through a home sweep of Baylor, and a road sweep of then-conference leader Oklahoma, giving Texas a 29-8 mark, including 9-3 in conference play and an inside track at a conference championship, and a national top ten ranking. If you're looking to see how the Horns were able to improve upon the prior year's failures, check this article from our very own Jeff Asher. However, a midseason swoon was about to strike: being swept in a weekend series at home by TCU (scoring a single run all weekend), dropping a series at home to Oklahoma State, and dropping another series at West Virginia. Falling in the rankings and to a 34-15/11-10 record in conference, the Horns looked like they'd limp into the conference tournament. Fortunately, the return of starting pitcher Dillon Peters would spur a late season rally for the Horns, as well as inspire a hitting revival, as Texas would take the last conference series of the season from Kansas State with a 12-0 and 9-8 win, ending the year at 36-16 and 13-11 in conference, a disappointing 5th place in the Big 12.

Texas needed a good showing in the Big 12 Tournament to improve it's standing for postseason play, and an 8-3 win over Texas Tech and 3-0 win over Oklahoma State were a promising start, but 1-3 and 4-6 losses again to Oklahoma State would send Texas to the Rice Regional as a #2 seed. And, as fate would have it, facing the #3 seed Texas A&M Aggies. A resounding 8-1 win over the Aggies would start the series, followed by a 3-2 win over regional host Rice would get Texas to the championship game, where they needed two cracks at the Aggies to win the regional.

The win would give Texas the opportunity to host the winner of the LSU Regional, Houston. In keeping with the Southwest Conference domination, Texas would make quick work of Houston, winning 4-2 and 4-0 to claim their national best 35th trip to Omaha.

Who are the players...

As with every Augie Garrido coached team, this iteration of the Horns features dominant starting pitching backed by a deep bullpen with timely hitting and bunting to fabricate offense. At starting pitcher, the veteran troika of Parker French - Dillon Peters - Nathan Thornhill proved difficult in any weekend series, and junior Lukas Schiraldi provided quality midweek starts. Underclassmen Morgan Cooper and Chad Hollingsworth have been the primary relievers, with John Curtiss as the team's closer. However, Dillon Peters was ruled out for the rest of the season following elbow trouble before the regional tournament. But Texas may have found their new third starter, after Chad Hollingsworth's complete game domination of Texas A&M to win the Rice regional.

The defense behind the pitchers has improved this season as well, given improved play from familiar faces and an infusion of young talent. Freshman Tres Barrerra has become a rock at catcher, and is a player teams don't want to test. Fellow freshman Zane Gurwitz has been stellar at third base, and yet another freshman Kacy Clemens has shown a steady hand as Texas's first baseman. Returning infielders Brooks Marlow and CJ Hinojosa have found a good chemistry together, while the outfield grouping of Ben Johnson, Mark Payton, and Collin Shaw have proven more than capable of making spectacular plays.

At the plate, the Texas offense has climbed aboard senior Mark Payton's back and ridden his streak of reaching base safely in 101 straight games. And as is customary for Augie Garrido teams, Texas is a national leader in sacrifice bunts. While last year's squad only had solid batting from a few players, this year's group is getting production throughout the order. The addition of freshmen Zane Gurwitz and Tres Barrerra have bolstered the middle and bottom of the order, and Marlow-Johnson-Payton-Carter-Hinojosa have all stepped up their game from the prior year. It's a lineup fully capable of getting 4 to 5 runs a game, a mark that should win them plenty of games with the pitching staff Texas fields.

What's next...

Texas opens its run in Omaha on Saturday against UC-Irvine. BON will be bringing in depth coverage leading up to the Horn's run.

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