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Weekend Preview: Houston College Classic

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[UPDATE: A familiar theme -- great pitching, good defense, just enough offense -- leads Texas to a 2-1 victory over rival Rice. Taylor Jungmann gets no decision but pitched 7.2 innings giving up just one run while Chance Ruffin gets the win by striking out the side in the 9th. An 8th inning Tant Shepherd double provided the game winner.]

It's a big weekend for Texas sports. The Baseball Longhorns head down to Houston for three games against three quality opponents in the Houston College Classic. When we were growing up, there was something called the Winn-Dixie Showdown or some such thing. It took place in the Superdome, and the three Louisiana schools would invite three schools from another state for a little rounds robin--so for instance, LSU, UNO, and Tulane would play one game each against Texas, A&M, and Rice--or Florida, FSU, and Miami, or Ole Miss, Mississppi State, and USM. You get the idea. Anyway, it was always a lot of fun and we're very pleased to see a similar concept, a round-robin situation among major programs, gathering steam in Texas as this will mark the 10th annual Classic.

Heading into Friday's game, the biggest story to watch as far as Texas goes is actually two days away. The Texas Sports preview lists Sunday's starter as "TBA," meaning that Cole Green may already be getting a shot at snatching the Sunday slot away from sophomore Austin Dicharry. The fact is, whichever one ends up with the Sunday job will be Texas' least imposing weekend starter and whichever one loses the battle will be the best middle reliever in the bullpen. As usual, Taylor Jungmann will start on Friday and Brandon Workman on Saturday.

On the offensive side of things, Texas is coming off a pretty poor performance--albeit a win--against Texas Pan-Am in the midweek contest. As we are quick to note each year, though, most every college team has one top-notch pitcher and most every midweek opponent Texas has will be throwing its ace in Austin. It's worth pointing out that this will be the Longhorns' first games outside of the friendly confines of  the Disch in 2010--and that's particularly exciting because of the Astros' little league distance on the left field fence. Texas has shown surprising power even in Austin, where homeruns are hard to come by. They have nailed five dingers through eight games.

Texas will play Rice on Friday, Houston on Saturday, and Missouri (the lone non-Texas team) on Sunday. A bit of information about each opponent after the jump.

The Owls, obviously a traditional power, started the season 0-4 due to a sweep in Palo Alto at the hands of the same Stanford team that Texas swept last weekend, followed by a home loss to Lamar. But since then they seem to have righted the ship, scoring five straight wins including a 4-3 victory over Nebraska and an 8-2 win over Houston. Keep an eye out for Michael Fuda, who has started the season absolutely scorching. Through the Owls' first nine games, he is hitting .455 and slugging .788 with two homers and, even more impressively, two triples. The Rice pitching staff has had some control issues, walking 36 and striking out only 18 thus far--though that 2:1 walk to k ratio won't last.

Houston comes into the weekend at 2-5 after starting the year with a worrying home sweep at the hands of Texas State. Houston is the only one of the Longhorns' opponents on the weekend which has announced its starter: Texas will face Michael Goodnight on Saturday. Goodnight has 13 strikeouts in 9.2 innings thus far, but he carries with him a 6.52 ERA and opponents have hit a healthy .257 against him. The Cougars' offensive star is probably Matt Creel, who is hitting .419 and has driven in nine runs. Joel Ansley is also off to a good start, hitting .435 including one of Houston's three homeruns on the season.

Finally, Texas' Sunday opponent is Missouri in an always-fun non-conference game against a conference opponent. Maybe Augie pitches the guy he doesn't think is actually going to be the conference Sunday starter just so that Mizzou doesn't get an early look at him? That would be awfully sneaky. Missouri comes in at 4-2, only having played six games because presumably it is too cold in Columbia to welcome opponents for midweek games. This will be their third straight weekend traveling to start the season. Aaron Senne is coming off a huge week in which he was named the Big XII Offensive Player of the Week--and he did it against some serious competition as Missouri travelled to Auburn and played the hosts, Florida Atlantic, and Boston College (remember them?). Michael Liberto is hitting .571 for the Tigers--and even though it's early in the season, to have had a base hit in more than half of your at-bats in any six-game stretch is impressive. 

For those of you in Houston, head to the Juice Box for some great college ball this weekend. TCU and Tech will also be there, and you can get tickets here. A three-day pass is $30, which is actually a great price for nine baseball games. On the other hand, if you actually attend all nine games...well, we guess that would make you our hero.