The No. 9 seed Texas Longhorns are set to face a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed East Carolina Pirates starting on Friday, June 10 at 11:00 a.m. Central in Greenville, North Carolina as part of the super regionals.
Texas has dominated its regional group fairly well after some ups and downs throughout the Big 12 Tournament, but can they continue to showcase an elevated form of play against tougher opponents? As we compare this matchup for the weekend, let’s also discuss how the top 16 teams remaining have performed since the start of the post season.
Below is a table showing each team’s OPS in the regular season and during the post season. Note*: post season data begins from each team’s respective conference tournament, not just the start of the NCAA Tournament.
Far from anyone else, the most worrisome feature is already highlighted: the Longhorns usually dominant OPS, influenced by first baseman Ivan Melendez (1.417) and outfielder Murphy Stehly (1.09), has had a drastic drop-off. Texas heavily relies on these two to make a difference as they are the only batters who averaged an OPS above 1 throughout the season, and their performance can make or break a series. Through the Big 12 Tournament, the duo went a combined 8-32, and during the regionals that was improved to 8-25, still not truly expectant numbers from evidently the best sluggers for UT.
East Carolina has picked up their pace just slightly, due to dominant performances against Cincinnati (15-5), Coppin State (17-1), and an avenging rematch against Coastal Carolina (13-4 after losing 9-1). Their standout slugger is outfielder Bryson Worrell, who averages an OPS of 1 on the season and has created 55 runs. He has already logged four home runs during the regionals as well.
On the other end of the spectrum, Auburn has skyrocketed in batting. Following an early exit in the SEC tournament after their loss to Kentucky, they pummeled their regional group with an overall run differential of 51-18 over three games. In a general trend, seeded teams seemed to improve their OPS, taking advantage of playing unranked opponents, while the unseeded teams who have worked their way into the top 16 saw a struggle in maintaining their season averages as they overcame tougher opponents.
Tennessee and Virginia Tech are two case scenarios of reliability to look into further. They each possess numerous exceptional batters, meaning they have five or more sluggers with an OPS above 1, granted they have at least 150 at bats on the season. This creates an obvious correlation with consistency in team batting. Considering that most other teams who have reached this far maybe have one or two extraordinary hitters, having a solid chunk of the rotation performing at this level guarantees success. On the off chance one or two of your more dominant players are having a bad game, there is a solid foundation to carry the team forward. These two teams have seen the least amount of variability in the post season from to game (the exception being VT’s 10-0 loss to UNC during the ACC Tournament), given the small sample size. This could be a recipe for piling on runs in future games as we see other team’s star players possibly crumble under pressure, these two teams can continue to rely on a core rotation of remarkable batters.
A similar table is seen below, replacing OPS with WHIP comparisons from the regular to postseason.
Texas has relatively held its ground on the pitching end. The two losses this postseason against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have been primarily due to a lack of batting production. However, in those losses, right-handers Travis Sthele (WHIP = 1.58) and Zane Morehouse (1.39) started and gave up a combined nine runs through the first few innings in each game. Texas can stay strong when they can keep their opponents scoreless through the first half the game, demonstrated well by left-handers Pete Hansen (0.97) and Lucas Gordon (1.05).
East Carolina has only had one pitching collapse this post season coming against Coastal Carolina where left-hander Jake Kuchmaner gave up three runs on the first two outs of the game. This is just an anomaly again as their regular starting rotation of right-hander Carter Spivey (1.09), left-hander CJ Mayhue (0.93), and right-hander Josh Grosz (1.38) performed well throughout this season. Spivey has proved as a clear utility player serving as a starter, reliever, and closer throughout the season, and doing all of it at an incredible level. Following him, right-hander Garrett Saylor (1.21) has proven himself as their most reliable relief pitcher.
Some data points to look out for are how Tennessee, Stanford, and Oregon State have had the greatest declines in pitching performance. Tennessee has won all their games in the postseason, but in their last two (12-7 against Campbell, and 9-6 against Georgia Tech), they gave up more runs than they are usually comfortable with. The bulk of these came from four home runs that allowed a combined seven RBI. Even more so, they weren’t playing their reserves, usual right-handed starters Drew Beam (.93) and Chase Dollander (.81) led off these games which could mark a slip up that decreases their odds for a shot at the title.
Oregon State’s massive increase in WHIP came at the expense of their 22-25 loss against UCLA during the Pac-12 tournament. Though they also gave up a combined 14 runs in their last two games against Vanderbilt. It was indicative that they are a less reliable team without left-hander Cooper Hjerpe (.87) and right-hander Ben Ferrer (.84) out on the field for the Beavers.
Lastly, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and UConn have done some astonishing work locking down seeded opponents Florida, Miami, and Maryland respectively. Oklahoma has been tremendous since their Big 12 Championship run, giving up only 11 runs in four games. Their top five pitchers are not markedly shutout guys, all giving up early runs. However, their consistency stands out in that they rarely allow more than two hits while on the mound in a game. These include left-handers Jake Bennett (1.09) and Chazz Martinez (1.45), and right-handers David Sandlin (1.36), Trevin Michael (1.11), and Cade Horton (1.63). Their slugging pales in comparison to the competition and they aren’t racking up scores like their softball counterpart, but their reliability is what led them to a Big 12 title and could be a reason they continue to upset teams in the CWS. Either way, Texas isn’t looking to play any of their big-time rivals in Texas A&M or OU unless they both reach the finals.
The Longhorns would most likely be in a double-elimination bracket in the College World Series with No. 2 Stanford, No. 10 UNC, and No. 1 Tennessee, who they haven’t seen since their win in March this season, assuming those teams win their respective super regionals. Hansen and Gordon have proven themselves time and time again, it’s now up to the rest of the bullpen to build on that momentum. The Texas batting rotation has step it up a notch and not let mediocre performances from teammates affect the overall game. If they beat East Carolina, they are likely going into a bracket with teams who are sliding on the pitching end, but it all hinges on the Horns ability to gather themselves with their batting.