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Gut Check Time for Texas Baseball

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Texas had chances to win and couldn't make it happen. It was right there for the taking, but the opponents in blue made plays just a tiny bit more effectively and a tiny bit more often than the Longhorns, and what could have been elation instead feels quite empty. Sound familiar? While the basketball team was having its collective heart broken by Duke in Greensboro, the Longhorn baseball team was swept by Kansas at Hoglund Ballpark in a series that could very easily have been a sweep for the good guys instead. Just like that, the formerly top-ranked Horns have dropped four in a row and proved that the Big 12 will be no walk in the park this season.

Texas lost each game in Lawrence by a single run. They could easily be 5-1 in conference play, but instead are a pedestrian 2-4. Due to the fact that only ten Big 12 teams still play baseball, the series was Kansas' conference opener and put the Jayhawks at the top of the standings at 3-0.

The good news is that, this early in the season, a conference sweep is much easier to recover from that one further down the road. The other good news is that the series wasn't at home--getting swept at home by Kansas could be called a disaster. Don't get us wrong--a four-game losing streak is never awesome. But the fact that all four have come away from the friendly confines of UFCUDFF gives Texas an opportunity to regroup upon their return to Austin.

Click through for the gruesome details and a bit of forward thinking.

Friday: Kansas 5, Texas 4. The entire difference in the ballgame was Kansas' four-spot in the third inning. The third inning saw the Longhorns simply implode, with Chance Ruffin walking in a run; a Brandon Belt throwing error allowing an unearned run; and a bad throw to first by Cameron Rupp on a strike three in the dirt. While Ruffin did allow three singles and that crucial walk in the inning, he did enough to limit the damage. Ruffin had to get five outs in the frame--Belt's error should have been an out on a fielder's choice and of course Rupp's error prevented a strikeout from counting. Chance actually had the odd experience of striking out the final three batters of the inning despite needing only two outs. The offense fought back to make it a one-run game, but once again the big inning killed the Longhorns much as it did against Rice.

Saturday: Kansas 4, Texas 3.  Texas held its first and only lead of the entire weekend in Game Two thanks to a 3-run bomb by Kevin Keyes in the sixth inning. It wouldn't hold, however, as starter Brandon Workman committed the cardinal sin of following a rally by issuing a leadoff walk. Tony Thompson followed that up with a single, and the Jayhawks were in business. Taylor Jungmann's first batter was Jimmy Waters, who singled to score the first two and tie the game up just like that. Jungmann did a great job to stop the bleeding after that, thanks in large part to a great play at third by Michael Torres (!), who thwarted a sac bunt attempt by getting the runner at second. Kansas took their 4-3 lead in the seventh, and Texas had a great chance with two outs in the ninth, but Brandon Belt flied out with men on second and third to end the game.

Sunday: Kansas 4, Texas 3. Again. Looking to salvage one game in the series, Texas came up just short one more time. Behind the third good-but-not excellent pitching performance of the weekend, this one from a platoon of Cole Green, Keith Shinaberry, Austin Dicharry, and Taylor Jungmann, Texas allowed three runs in the fourth to continue KU's theme of taking advantage of the opportunities Texas gave them. In this case, Green hit Thompson to start the inning--obviously just as bad as a leadoff walk and just as likely to score. Green commenced a serious downward slide immediately. He allowed all three of the frame's runs without retiring a single batter, including walking one of them in. Shinaberry came on in relief after a hard-luck infield single plated the third score. The senior did an amazing job to keep the game within reach, inducing an unassisted double play on a liner to Belt and a ground ball to short which ended the inning. Those were the only two batters Shinaberry faced. To the Longhorns' credit, they fought back with a run in each of the next three innings to tie it up at three before Jungmann allowed what turned out to be the winning run in the bottom of the seventh on a double, a sac bunt, and a sac fly.

Going forward: This weekend was the first time Texas has ever been swept in Lawrence. Along with the Rice game, the series also officially put an end to the Longhorns' excellent early-season mojo. But the baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, and very few teams in the game's history have been able to ride one single mojo wave from start to finish. This team has not lost its cool, nor has it been blown out, throughout this four-game slide.

All told, there is no reason to hit the panic button. Texas comes home to Austin for its next five games, starting with tomorrow night's mid-week contest against Dallas Baptist and continuing by hosting Tech for a weekend series.

The pitching staff was not dominant in Lawrence, but still gave an effort that most teams would be thrilled with. The biggest concern at this point in the season has to be the lack of timely hitting. You have to give a lot of credit to the Kansas pitchers for stranding 19 Longhorns on base this weekend, but it's the hitters' job to pick those guys up. Incidentally, Texas pitchers left 25 Jayhawks stranded--which makes you wonder just how good Kansas might end up being once they really click on all cylinders. It's a tough league.