How far will they fall?
Losers of four straight and six of the last eight games, the Texas Longhorns (24-19, 5-9) return home to UFCU Disch-Falk Field after a four-game road trip desperate to pick up wins against the No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers (24-14, 8-7), winners of 11 of their last 15 games.
The good news for head coach David Pierce’s team is that West Virginia is an excellent home team with 13 wins in 16 games in Morgantown, but extremely average on the road with an 11-11 record. And the Mountaineers also struggle at the plate with a .248 batting average.
The bad news is that the West Virginia pitching staff is elite, ranking within the top 15 nationally in hits allowed per nine innings (6.92), strikeouts per nine innings (10), and ERA (3.22). Opponents are only hitting .211 against the Mountaineers.
Moreover, Friday starter Alex Manoah, a junior right-hander, leads the Big 12 with six wins and a 1.81 ERA while ranking No. 5 nationally in WHIP (0.80) and No. 6 nationally in strikeouts (95). Over the his last three starts, Manoah has been exceptional, pitching two complete games, avoiding any earned runs allowed, and striking out 41 batters. Opponents have recorded only 10 hits.
Considering that the Horns only hit .250 as a team, going against the ‘Eers will present a major challenge, especially after suffering complete-game shutouts against the Wildcats and Cowboys in consecutive conference games. In Stillwater last Saturday, Texas only scored two runs before exploding for 10 on Sunday and six against Texas State on Tuesday.
The psyche of the Longhorns team may also be fragile after suffering back-to-back walk-off losses — this series will test whether Texas continues sliding off the bubble or shows the ability to bounce back and earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
Since West Virginia also struggles at the plate, senior catcher Michael McCann needs to do a good job of slowing down the running game for the Mountaineers — head coach Randy Mazey’s team ranks No. 28 nationally with 73 stolen bases, led by junior center fielder Brandon White (20) and sophomore second baseman Tyler Doanes (15). Freshman shortstop Tevin Tucker is known for advancing his teammates via sacrifice bunts.
For the Longhorns pitching staff, it’s all about reducing mistakes, especially walks and wild pitches — Texas has allowed up 200 free passes and thrown 53 wild pitches, with 15 games featuring multiple errant throws from the mound. When the bullpen blew the ninth-inning lead to close the series against Oklahoma State, the final frame featured three walks and two wild pitches that resulted in three extra bases and one run.
The series starts on Friday at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network, then continues Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Central before concluding on Sunday at noon Central.