Even head coach David Pierce is skeptical about the upcoming schedule for the No. 1 Texas Longhorns.
“This stretch was probably a little bit more than I wanted,” he said on Sunday.
Starting with Tuesday’s game against the Sam Houston State Bearkats in Huntsville, the Longhorns play 10 of the next 11 games away from UFCU Disch-Falk Field, a challenging stretch highlighted by five games in South Carolina that will bolster the team’s NCAA Tournament resume and provide plenty of perspective on whether Texas deserves to maintain its top ranking.
“You want to look at how your RPI plays,” Pierce said. “You want to look at how we respond in hostile environments before we get into conference.”
The environment in Huntsville may be hostile, but it will also be familiar to Pierce, who coached Sam Houston State to first-place finishes in the Southland Conference in each of his three seasons from 2012-14 before spending two seasons at Tulane.
Playing in Huntsville for the first time since 2017 is Pierce’s way of giving back to a school that has dealt with financial difficulties and he expects a big crowd at Don Sanders Stadium, which has a capacity of 1,163.
Texas enters the game with a 69-12 all-time record against Sam Houston State, including a current seven-game winning streak. The last win by the Bearkats was a 5-0 victory in Austin in 2015. On the season, Sam Houston State is 4-4 with a series win over Nebraska, a 10-inning victory in Arlington over then-No. 4 Oklahoma State, and a sweep by Dallas Baptist last weekend.
So the Bearkats are a dangerous team, albeit one still figuring out how to replace two draft picks, including star center fielder Colton Cowser, who was selected fifth overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2021.
Third baseman Justin Wishkoski, a Howard College transfer, is hitting .464 to lead Sam Houston State, but the Bearkats are only hitting .267 overall with two home runs and a .359 slugging percentage. And Wishkoski is off to a rough start at third with three errors and an .850 fielding percentage. If Sam Houston State can keep the game close, right-handed closer Lance Lusk had nine saves last season and is considered an MLB prospect.
Texas is hoping warmer weather will help bolster its already hot start to the season. At 8-0, the Longhorns have outscored their opponents 62-8 as the pitching staff has led the way with four shutouts, four earned runs allowed, and 78 strikeouts in 72 innings. The first two games of the Alabama series featured some struggles at the plate, but Texas is still hitting .294 as a team with a .418 on-base percentage and a .450 slugging percentage.
One question mark for the Horns is the availability of left fielder Eric Kennedy, who sat out on Saturday and Sunday due to back issues, but is off to a fast start this season, leading the team with a .435 batting average.
First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. Central on ESPN+ with right-hander Andre Duplantier (1-0, 0.00 ERA) taking the mound for Texas against right-hander Cole Wesneski (1-0, 2.57), who pitched four scoreless innings in last week’s win over Oklahoma State.