Texas Longhorns baseball kicks off Louisiana Week tonight as the New Orleans Privateers come to town for a three-game set, followed by a midweek journey to Lafayette to take on ULL.
UNO is 19-18 on the season, but they’ve lost five straight games and 11 of their last 16. Only one of their last 11 losses has even been by one run, so it’s not like it has been a string of bad luck.
UNO is competent, though, with an undefeated 3-0 record against in-state rivals LSU and Tulane — the Privateers come to Austin ranked No. 130 in Boyd’s World’s Iterative Strength Rating system, so this will not be a glorified bye weekend for the Longhorns.
Working in favor of the Longhorns is the fact that Texas is 20-7 at home this season and UNO is 2-10 on the road. A series loss would be deeply disappointing and Texas fans shouldn’t be happy with anything less than a sweep, though a 2-1 series victory would be acceptable.
UNO will throw a pair of quality starters in Bryan Warzek and Shawn Semple. Warzek is 5-1 with a 2.14 ERA and at least 5.1 innings pitched in all nine of his starts this season. Warzek threw a complete-game, five-hitter two weeks ago against Lamar but was torched for five runs in seven innings last weekend at McNeese. Semple hasn’t been quite as consistent, though his 2.82 ERA and one homer allowed all season are impressive.
Beyond that there aren’t a ton of quality pitchers in the Privateers bullpen. Only Martin Reeves and Matthew Gillis have ERAs under 4 and last Sunday’s starter sports a 6.75 ERA in 28 innings.
UNO is solid at the plate with four hitters sporting .300+ batting averages. The biggest threat may be junior outfielder Tristan Clarke, who is just 5-25 over his last eight games but is still hitting .296 on the year. Clarke leads UNO in OPS, runs (26), homers (8), and total bases (77).
The ‘Horns will counter with the Kingham/Cooper/Johnston combination which is proving quite effective of late. The biggest story for Texas baseball over the last few weeks might be the emergence of Chase Shugart as a strong late-inning option. Shugart had a disastrous start to the 2017 campaign, but has been very strong of late with an ERA of 1.00 over nine innings in his last six appearances.
Over that time he has given up nine hits while walking just four and striking out five. The sophomore flamethrower’s ERA prior to this stretch was 8.10 with 18 hits given up in 11 innings.
It’s hard not to look ahead from this series and see the make-or-break end of season stretch run coming over the next month. Texas is 25-15 on the year, matching last season’s win total and putting Texas in position to potentially host in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish to the regular season.
Texas closes its season at Oklahoma State, at TCU, and hosting West Virginia. Those three teams come in at 54, 7, and 18, respectively, in ISR. Win two of those three series and finish strong in midweek games and a hosting gig may happen. Of course, two of those are series are on the road and Texas has yet to win a road series this year.
David Pierce has Texas within sight of a solid if unspectacular first season in Austin. First UNO comes to town and then things will start to get pressure-packed real quick.
First pitch is tonight at 7:00 p.m. CT on the Longhorn Network.