After a long off-season only made more grueling by the shortcomings of football and basketball, Texas Longhorns baseball is back. Whether it is actually “back” is a different question that will be tested tonight at 6:30 p.m. CT at the Disch against the No. 23 Rice Owls.
It will be a nostalgia-filled mentor vs. mentee showdown, as Texas coach David Pierce was an assistant for Wayne Graham’s Rice group for nine years, including 2003’s National Championship.
The Owls posted an adequate, but not phenomenal 2016 campaign which resulted in a 38-24 record and a first-round exit from the NCAA tournament. But while Rice is attempting to build off of a solid 2016, Texas must rebuild completely from a tumultuous 25-32 season that resulted in the resignation of legendary head coach Augie Garrido.
Despite returning nearly every prominent piece from a year ago, and having home-field advantage, Texas will play underdog in this four-game series. Unfortunately for Rice, the playing field has been all but evened as the Owls will be without some of the team’s best players.
For context, Glenn Otto is Rice’s first team All-Conference USA reliever who led the team with 33 appearances and held a team second best 2.26 ERA. Rice’s ERA leader? Jackson Parthasarthy (1.32) — he’s also out. Will Amador, a 2016 starter who appeared in 19 games, broke his nose and will be the third pitcher to miss the Texas series.
Add in the fact that Rice lost starters Blake Fox (2.72 ERA) to graduation and Jon Duplantier (3.24 ERA) to the MLB Draft and it’s apparent that Wayne Graham’s bullpen will be stretched extremely thin. The Owls did sign six freshman pitchers for this year, three of whom are top-500 prospects, so it’s possible Rice will patch the hole with young guns.
Losing infielder Tristan Gray for the weekend could be the biggest blow for Rice, as the junior notched a .295 average and amassed a team high five homers in 2016.
Texas will simply be defensive consistency, a phrase never uttered to describe the ‘Horns final year under Garrido. Whether it’s avoiding multiple-error innings, or simply finding the strike zone, the Longhorns just need to stay focused to hold the Owls in check — Rice is frankly not an explosive offensive team, as Graham’s squad hit only .273 in 2016, so there’s no reason for Texas to suffer any blow-up innings.
My Projected Lineup
- Zane Gurwitz CF
- David Hamilton SS
- Patrick Mathis RF
- Ryan Reynolds 3B
- Kacy Clemens 1B
- Kody Clemens DH
- Brett Boswell 2B
- Michael Cantu C
- Travis Jones LF
My Projected Starters
Friday — Morgan Cooper
Saturday — Kyle Johnston
Sunday — Connor Mayes
Sunday (DH.) — Blair Henley or Nolan Kingham
My Projected Series Outcome
A 2-2 split, with the potential for 3-1 leaning more towards the Longhorns than the Owls. I have a feeling Texas fans will come away from this weekend at least content, if not happy, about the results
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Catch the game tonight on the Longhorn Network or listen in on 104.9 The Horn. I will also be live tweeting the action in person so feel free to follow @BON_SBnation or @JackKeyez for in game updates.
For some last minute off-season reading, check out our baseball previews and recruiting news here. Hook ‘em!