It’s easy to look uncritically at a Texas baseball team that will undoubtably be improved and think that David Pierce will bring the Longhorns back to excellence in his first year. But a deeper look at the schedule makes it apparent that wins won’t be easy to come by. In the Longhorns’ four marquee non-conference series, two of their opponents went to the NCAA tournament last season (Rice, UCONN), one of them is a top 20 team (Stanford), and one is a college baseball blue blood that won the National Championship in 2013 (UCLA).
Furthermore, Texas’ weekday games look fairly tame at first glance, but three of the nine opponents beat Texas a season ago. The ‘Horns will have again have a date with Texas A&M this year, as well as two other 2016 NCAA tournament participants (Sam Houston State, UL Lafayette).
So, without further ado, a look at the games that make up one of the nation’s hardest non-conference schedules:
When: February 17th-19th
2016 record: 38-24
David Pierce’s first game as Texas head coach will trigger memories of the steps taken to get there. The new Longhorns skipper’s first big coaching break came when he joined Rice’s assistant coaching staff under the legendary Wayne Graham. In Pierce’s first season in 2003, he aided an electric Owls pitching staff that would go on to win the National Championship, the school’s first ever.
Graham is still Rice’s coach and the Owls are still a very good team -- ranked again in the top 25 for 2017. The team’s 2016 campaign was up and down -- Graham’s squad finished 38-24 and made a regional appearance, but also suffered blowouts such as a 24-6 thrashing at the hands of Houston.
Though they are ranked higher than the Longhorns, the Owls will face some serious adversity when they visit Austin this weekend. Rice starting pitchers Glenn Otto and Willy Amador are both doubtful to suit up against the ‘Horns after suffering injuries in the spring. Otto is a particularly important loss, as the 6-5 righty honed a 2.26 ERA and is the “premier prospect of Conference USA’s 2017 draft class”. Add in the fact that fellow 2016 starter Blake Fox graduated, Jon Duplantier also departed Rice for the MLB draft, and it’s easy to see why the Owls may have some trouble on the mound this weekend.
Expect a full preview of Texas’ four game series against Rice in the near future.
When: February 24th-26th
2016 record: 38-25
Apparently they play college baseball in cold weather too, and UCONN is a Northeastern powerhouse under head coach Jim Penders. The Huskies made the NCAA tournament last season after taking the AAC tournament championship over Houston. Though UCONN would fall to Georgia Tech in the NCAA regionals to Georgia Tech, the Huskies’ late season surge, which included 11 straight wins, was nothing to scoff at.
Thankfully for Texas, UCONN will be without a good chunk of its 2016 production this season. Star left-handed pitcher Anthony Kay was taken in the first round of the MLB draft by the Mets, while first-baseman Bobby Melley, perhaps UCONN’s best position player, graduated and was selected by the Rays.
The Huskies will be reloading a bit in 2017, but they should still pose a challenging task for the ‘Horns. Don’t expect Texas to exit the series with a clean sweep in this three game series.
@ #18 Stanford
When: March 2nd-March 5th
2016 record: 31-23
Mark Marquess’ 45th year with Stanford will be his last, but there will quite the juxtaposition when the longest tenured college baseball head coach faces off against Texas rookie Pierce. Stanford wasn’t dominant last season, and yet this is the series that worries me the most. Texas was able to split its four game series with Stanford at home last season in a topsy turvy effort that included an 11-1 victory and a 0-9 shutout loss. In 2017, Stanford will be Texas’ first weekend series opponent that did not make last season’s 2016 tournament, but it will also be Pierce’s first true road test as the Longhorns’ coach.
The Cardinal’s pitching staff looks flat out intimidating. Stanford will bring back most of its rotation, including 2016’s Freshman All-American right-handed starter Tristan Beck. Beck started as a freshman on opening day last season and went on to hone a 2.48 ERA. The ‘Horns did manage to beat Beck in a 4-3 game in 2016, but Stanford also brings back Colton Hock, who started in a 1-0 shutout of Augie’s team last year. Additionally, Chris Castellanos and Brett Hanewich, who combined to start 20 games in 2016, will be back for their senior seasons.
Stanford’s offense was far from potent a season ago, ranking 248th in the nation in scoring. However, the team will bring back a lot of talent, including slugging sophomore Duke Kinamon. Overall, I wouldn’t mind if Texas repeated 2016’s split against Stanford, as Marquess’ squad possesses immense potential.
When: March 10th-12th
2016 record: 25-31
UCLA found themselves in almost the exact same position as Texas last season — the Bruins were an offensively anemic squad stuck in the old era of over-dependence on pitching and small ball tactics. The ‘Horns competed against the Bruins in Los Angeles last season and dropped two of three games.
Who knows what to make of this year’s three game series, as both teams are too eerily similar on paper to predict an outcome. However, I would give the edge to the ‘Horns. UCLA was young in 2016, but the Bruins will still be losing five of their eight starting positions players from a year ago. Furthermore, there’s no place like home, and facing UCLA in Austin rather than Los Angeles should benefit the young ‘Horns.
When: April 21st-23rd
2016 record: 31-26
A late April series against New Orleans will be a brief break from the merciless Big 12. David Pierce’s Tulane team played New Orleans a season ago, and emerged victorious in a 5-2 effort. Aaron Palmer, New Orleans’ best position player from 2016, has graduated and the Privateers will miss his .325 average.
New Orleans had a fairly weak pitching staff last season that posted a team 5.39 ERA, and the Privateers will be losing last year’s senior starter Riley Hodge. Hodge’s 4.23 ERA and 15 starts were both team bests for starting pitchers.
@Sam Houston State / Sam Houston State
When: February 22nd, April 4th
2016 record: 42-22
Directly after Pierce’s meetup with Rice, he will again be hit with a blast of nostalgia when he travels to Huntsville to play Sam Houston State, his first Division 1 head coaching job. They’ll meet up again in Austin in April. Sam Houston State made the NCAA tournament last season so don’t expect a cakewalk for the ‘Horns.
When: February 28th
2016 record: 35-19
Lamar is a sneakily solid club that could feasibly eek out a win against Texas. They did beat the ‘Horns in 2016 after all in a 2-4 win.
When: March 7th
2016 record: 28-24
The Spiders shouldn’t pose a major threat to the ‘Horns. Don’t be misled by their winning record -- the only top 25 team on Richmond’s schedule last season was Virginia, and the game was cancelled.
#20 Texas A&M
When: March 14th
2016 record: 49-16
Last year’s showdown with A&M ended in Texas scoring four runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at four, only for the Aggies to blast a game winning bottom of the ninth home run. A “horns down” gesture followed, resulting in a scuffle at home plate. Expect bad blood again in Texas’ marquee weekday game.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi / @Texas A&M Corpus Christi
When: March 8th, March 28th
2016 record: 19-32
Texas suffered a humiliating 0-5 loss against Texas A&M Corpus Christi last season in a game that may have solidified the beginning of the end of the Augie Garrido era. The Longhorns should take care of business in their two matchups this season.
@Texas State / Texas State / Texas State
When: March 21st, April 11th, April 18th
2016 record: 31-28
Texas and Texas State split a pair of games in Austin in 2016 with the ‘Horns winning 6-2 on April 26th, and State notching a 3-2 victory on May 17th. Texas State is a mid-tier team, but anything less than two victories over the Bobcats would be a disappointment for Texas.
UT Rio Grande Valley
When: March 22nd
2016 record: 21-28
Texas escaped UT Rio Grande Valley with a 7-5 win last season, and no evidence points to the Longhorns not being able to get a W again in 2017.
When: April 25th
2016 record: 43-21
Fun fact — if UL Lafayette would’ve lost their final football game against UL Monroe, Texas would’ve been bowl eligible. Instead UL Lafayette waltzed to a 30-3 victory, erasing the Longhorns’ hopes of a bowl game they probably wouldn’t have accepted anyways.
As far as baseball goes, the Ragin’ Cajuns may be Texas’ second most difficult weekday opponent behind the Aggies. UL Lafayette very nearly made it to a Super Regional last season after defeating Princeton and Arizona back to back in the regionals. Texas can’t overlook the Ragin’ Cajuns.
When: May 2nd
2016 record: 30-28
UT Arlington beat Oklahoma State, Baylor (twice), and TCU the first game of last season, so perhaps the Mavs shouldn’t be overlooked. Yet, despite UT Arlington’s winning record a year ago, this isn’t a very concerning match-up.
When: May 16th
2016 record: 13-38
It’s possible that Texas’ total non-conference losses could approach double digits, but this won’t be one of them. Incarnate Word, a San Antonio school located in the Southland Conference, should not pose a threat to the ‘Horns.
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Up next is a look at the Big 12. Texas baseball begins Friday.