Texas Longhorns baseball (5-3) will host the Northwestern Wildcats (2-4) this weekend at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in the first four-game series of the season for David Pierce’s team. The first pitch will take place on Friday at 7 pm CT on Longhorn Network.
Northwestern, a team that finished 27-30 in 2017, looks the part of a team that could likely have a losing record again this season in the small sample size so far. The Wildcats have dropped both of their series this season, losing two games and winning one against both Nebraska-Omaha and Kansas.
Like LSU, who Texas played last weekend, Northwestern has struggled with pitching and defense. Spencer Allen’s group has allowed at least 10 runs in four of its six games this season.
Left-handed Northwestern pitcher Quinn Lavelle has been the starter for both games that the Wildcats held an opponent to under 10 runs. The freshman went five complete innings and allowed three hits and no runs in a 3-1 victory over Nebraska-Omaha. In a 4-2 loss to Kansas, Lavelle went 4.2 innings and allowed five hits and four runs. He has struck out nine batters in his 9.2 total innings of work this season.
Lavelle will get the start for Northwestern friday night and could be the guy to really give the strikeout prone ‘Horns trouble at the plate. The other two pitchers who have started for Northwestern this season — Danny Katz and Hank Christie — hone a 6.75 ERA and 12.27 ERA, respectively. Ryan Bader, who has thrown for a 7.71 ERA in 4.2 innings pitched across two appearances, will also likely start for the Wildcats this weekend.
If Texas can continue to find an offensive spark at the plate like the team did last weekend against LSU, this series could provide the ‘Horns with an opportunity to gain some confidence offensively after not hitting well in Opening Weekend against Louisiana. Look for guys like Zach Zubia to continue to emerge at the plate and provide power for the meat of the lineup.
As for the Texas defense, the ‘Horns are likely to turn to Chase Shugart to make his first Friday start ever. The former reliever has gotten off to a solid start in his new role as starter, aside from allowing five runs in his fifth and final inning of work against LSU. Shugart holds a 3.97 ERA, and has allowed no walks, notched seven K’s, and allowed 11 hits in his 11.1 innings this year.
For the double-header Saturday, Pierce will go with Nolan Kingham and Blair Henley. Kingham is usually Texas’ ace, but had perhaps his rockiest start ever against LSU last weekend, allowing eight runs (four earned) against the Tigers in only three innings. However, Kingham bounced back and closed the game out Tuesday against UTSA. The junior has a 3.00 ERA, and has 14 strikeouts and only three walks in 12 innings.
Henley has quietly gotten off to the strongest start of any of the guys in Texas’ weekend rotation. The sophomore has a 0.82 ERA in the two games he’s pitched, allowing only one run on the year. Against LSU, Henley bent but never broke, allowing six hits and three walks in six innings but never allowing a Tiger to cross home.
The Sunday starter for Texas is TBA, but don’t be surprised if a freshman gets a chance on the hill. Nico O’Donnell (1.04 ERA), the midweek starter for the ‘Horns, could get the start, or Texas could go with fellow freshman Bryce Elder (4.50 ERA).
Texas’ pitching staff will be tested by the Wildcats, as Northwestern has four players currently batting .300 or more. The headliner in the lineup right now is first baseman Willie Bourbon, who is hitting .375 and has two doubles, two triples, and three homers thus far in 24 at bats.
The ‘Horns would really like to rack up some wins against Northwestern with a date with 8-0 Stanford looming next weekend. In my opinion, the series against the Wildcats is not a success unless the ‘Horns can take at least three of four games. It’s a tall task, but with such a difficult schedule, it’s crucial for Texas to win against the teams it’s supposed to win against.
This is your open thread for Friday night’s game. You can also catch the action on 104.9 the Horn.