Riding a four-game winning streak, the No. 19 Texas Longhorns are headed back to Globe Life Field in Arlington, this time for the Big 12 Tournament, which the Longhorns open on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Central against the No. 9 Oklahoma State Cowboys on ESPNU.
Head coach David Pierce’s club sits at No. 21 in the final regular-season RPI and is currently projected as the No. 2 seed in the College Station Regional by Division 1 Baseball with host Texas A&M earning the No. 8 national seed. Baseball America agrees, albeit with the Aggies notching the No. 6 national seed after a strong finish to the regular season.
So moving off the No. 2 line and securing a regional at UFCU Disch-Falk Field is a longshot for Texas, but not completely off the table — the Horns could potentially earn national top-16 spot without automatically qualifying by winning the Big 12 Tournament if Texas can make it to the finals or otherwise notch multiple victories against the conference’s best teams.
Getting through Oklahoma State is the first step and a crucial one to hosting hopes after the Cowboys took all three games in Austin, including a devastating Sunday loss after Texas blew an 8-0 lead with a disastrous 10-run seventh inning by the visitors. Since then, the Horns are 8-1 with two conference wins and a return to the top 25, but with right-hander Tristan Stevens trying to shore up the leaky bullpen, Texas doesn’t have ideal starting pitching depth and enters the postseason with question marks about whether Pierce will receive steady efforts in relief.
With Big 12 Player of the Year Ivan Melendez leading the way offensively and looking to set the school home run record, Texas has plenty of firepower from a group that hit .322 during the regular season and blasted 110 home runs, shattering the old school record. Five players now have double-digit home runs for the Longhorns, including 16 from right fielder Murphy Stehly and 14 from shortstop Trey Faltine. Melendez became the fourth Texas player to earn recognition as the conference’s best player after leading the Big 12 in batting average (.421), home runs (28), runs batted in (85), on-base percentage (.531), slugging percentage (.941) and OPS (1.472). The El Paso product leads the nation in home runs and is second in batting average and RBIs.
And the defense helps the pitching staff avoid jams, notching a .986 fielding percentage — only two players more than three errors and the combination of center fielder Douglas Hodo III, Faltine at shortstop, Mitchell Daly at second base, and Silas Ardoin behind the dish, is strong up the middle.
Given the expectations accompanying the preseason No. 1 ranking for Texas, the task to avoid a disappointing year for the Longhorns is now on the line as the burnt orange and white pursue the glimmer of hope that is a postseason series back in Austin.