For the first time ever, the baseball version of Red River Rivalry between the No. 8 Texas Longhorns (19-8, 1-2 Big 12) and the Oklahoma Sooners (15-8, 2-1 Big 12) will take place off campus during the regular season — instead of playing three games this season in Norman, the two rivals are instead meeting at Globe Life Park in Arlington this weekend.
The three-game series was originally scheduled for L. Dale Mitchell Park on the Oklahoma campus, but playing the series in Arlington will provide Texas fans in the Metroplex a chance to attend with a Cotton Bowl-lite atmosphere.
Texas enters the second series in Big 12 play after a month of March that began with promise thanks to wins over Tennessee and LSU in the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic, but the Horns lost on Sunday in that series and finished the month with a series loss to Texas Tech to open the conference schedule and a rivalry loss to Texas A&M in Austin on Tuesday.
So the Horns ended March with an 11-8 record, dropping from No. 1 in the polls to No. 8, and perhaps further, depending on the outcome this weekend.
The offense wasn’t the problem, as Texas hit .332 as a team with 47 doubles, four triples, and 38 home runs and averaged more than eight runs per game, homered in 18-of-19 games, and had 10 games with multiple home runs. The power surge from the Longhorns pushed them to No. 11 nationally in home runs with 42 total over 27 games.
First baseman Ivan Melendez started the month hitting .278 with only two home runs. Now he’s batting .412 and tied for the national lead with 13 home runs after hitting 11 in March, including multi-homer games against South Carolina and Texas Tech.
Shortstop Trey Faltine wasn’t far behind Melendez in hitting for power last month, hitting nine of his 10 home runs, including three in the last two games.
For third baseman Skyler Messinger, the first half of the month was a struggle — the Kansas transfer saw his average dip from .269 after the Sam Houston State game on March 1 to .191 when the South Carolina series ended on March 13. But since then, Messinger has made some swing adjustments and now has a 10-game hitting streak, raising his batting average to .352.
The pitching staff, however, finished March with a 4.79 ERA while losing Sunday starter Tanner Witt to Tommy John surgery and seeing little progress in establishing bullpen roles. Left-hander Pete Hansen, the Friday starter, and right-hander Tristan Stevens, the Saturday starter, both had the worst starts of their Texas careers in March, with Stevens failing to record an out last Saturday against Texas Tech.
Left-hander Lucas Gordon has been a bright spot with impressive performances in three of his four Sunday starts. Against UCLA in Houston, Gordon allowed one run in four innings of work, shutout Incarnate Word over seven innings, and helped Texas avoid a sweep by Texas Tech last Sunday with six innings of one-run baseball.
Oklahoma is hitting .287 as a team and averaging 6.2 runs per game, led by second baseman Jackson Nicklaus and left fielder Diego Muniz, who are both hitting .339. The Sooners have only hit 16 home runs this season with shortstop Peyton Graham leading the team with five.
The pitching staff has a 5.39 ERA with opponents hitting .256. Friday starter Jake Bennett, a big left-hander, has been superb with a 1.45 ERA and 0.80 WHIP while holding opponents to a .173 batting average. On the back end, Lamar transfer Trevin Michael, a right-hander, has been more than solid, saving four games and posting a 2.61 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 20.2 innings.
Probable pitching matchups
FRIDAY–Texas LHP Pete Hansen (4-0, 2.83) vs. OU LHP Jake Bennett (2-0, 1.45)
SATURDAY–Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (4-1, 3.23) vs. OU RHP David Sandlin (2-2, 6.35)
SUNDAY–Texas LHP Lucas Gordon (2-1, 1.59) vs. OU LHP Chazz Martinez (2-2, 4.45)
First pitch on Friday is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Bally Sports Oklahoma Extra, followed by noon Central games on Saturday and Sunday. ESPN2 will televise Saturday’s game and ESPN will carry Sunday’s contest.