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Texas baseball travels to TCU for pivotal battle in the race for the Big 12 Championship

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The Longhorns look to win their first series in Fort Worth since 1996.

TexasSports.com

With only two conference series remaining, the No. 6 Texas Longhorns travel to Fort Worth to play a pivotal three-game series against the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs.

Not only do the Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 standings over the Longhorns by two games, but they also seem to have David Pierce’s number at home, with a 5-1 record against Texas.

The Horns will need to win their first series in Fort Worth since 1996 if they hope to claim a share of the regular-season Big 12 title, with a sweep putting them back in the driver's seat.

Friday (Game 1/7:30 p.m./ESPNU) - Texas RHP Ty Madden vs. TCU LHP Russell Smith

Saturday (Game 2/2 p.m./ESPNU) - Texas RHP Tristan Stevens vs. TCU LHP Austin Krob

Sunday (Game 3/1 p.m./ESPNU) - Texas LHP Pete Hansen vs. TCU RHP Johnny Ray

“They’re similar to us,” Pierce said in a media session on Thursday. “They’re so balanced in their lineup, all the way through. Every one of them can give you a run threat, they do a great job of putting the ball in play, and they force you to make plays defensively.”

TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle’s squad boasts an impressive offense, second in the nation behind Arizona with 360 runs (36 more than Texas Tech and 42 more than Texas). Their .302 beating average is just a tenth behind Baylor for best in the Big 12 and their OBP (on-base percentage) is .419, also the best in the conference.

They also lead the nation in walks with 258 — four more than the Horns who are No. 2 — and like to run when they get on base with 86 stolen bases (first in the Big 12 and seventh in the nation).

Offensive Juggernauts

STAT Texas TCU
STAT Texas TCU
Batting Average 0.278 0.302
OBP 0.391 0.419
HR 49 51
Runs 318 360
BB 254 258

But’s it not just their offense that has carried TCU to a 33-10 record.

“They have power arms and they have interesting matchups, especially in the bullpen,” Pierce said.

Four of TCU’s top workhorses are left-handed pitchers, including Russell Smith and Austin Krob, who are starting on the mound for games one and two this weekend.

“We’ve done well against left-handers which has been a great adjustment for us,” Pierce said. “We haven’t been as good in the last couple of years but I like that match-up.”

While the Horned Frogs aren’t far behind the Longhorns in the major pitching statistics, Texas still holds an advantage.

Battle of the Bullpens

STAT Texas TCU
STAT Texas TCU
ERA 2.93 3.81
WHIP 1.16 1.25
HA Per 9 7.19 7.81
SO Per 9 8.4 10.2
HA Per 9 is Hits Allowed Per 9 Innings

The Friday and Saturday games present two mouth-watering duels with Ty Madden (6-2, 2.21 ERA) facing Russell Smith (6-1, 3.30) and Tristan Stevens (7-2, 3.16) against Austin Krob (6-0, 3.06).

As far as the past struggles in Fort Worth go, Pierce doesn’t point to anything.

“I don’t know if there’s any specific reason,” Pierce said. “Sometimes it’s good to go on the road, be together, be the underdog [with our] backs against the wall and I think that’s how we're approaching this one.”

The two teams haven’t seen each other in over two years after last year's series was canceled due to COVID-19. In 2019, Texas dropped two out of three to TCU, leading in all three, but blowing late leads to lose 3-2 and 12-8.

Texas led 2-0 heading into the final half inning of the first game, but a hit batter, two walks, two wild pitches, and two singles culminated in a three-run inning.

Two days later, the Horns found themselves leading 7-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning, then allowed 10 runs in the final three innings to drop the series.

Pierce hopes that this time around Texas can copy their “free and easy “Sunday performance against Tech last Sunday and apply it to TCU.

“I was really proud that we just didn’t panic and continued to play and I think that’s what you have to deal with when we go to Fort Worth,” Pierce said. “You got to understand that they’re a momentum team. When they have their offense going and sense things, we need to recognize that and get back into controlling the tempo of the game.”

Just one conference series remain for both squads, with Texas hosting West Virginia (15-21/6-12) and TCU facing Kansas State (27-16/6-9) on the road. If Texas can steal two games in Fort Worth, it would tie the two teams in the standings but a sweep would put them over the top.

First pitch on Friday is at 7:30 p.m. Central on ESPNU.