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Texas hosts No. 14 Texas Tech to open Big 12 play

The Horns enter the final series of the 14-game homestand with 11 straight wins.

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Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Mikala Compton/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

After entering the season’s longest homestand at 4-7, the Texas Longhorns have rattled off 11 straight wins heading into the start of Big 12 play on Friday against the No. 14 Texas Tech Red Raiders at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

The contests against the conference’s highest-ranked program will begin to determine how much the Longhorns improved during the winning streak against a string of weak opponents.

“The games are still relevant,” Texas head coach David Pierce said on Thursday. “If you do things right, you put yourself in a position to have success. If you don’t, you get beat. And so now the key for us is to do that against potentially better competition and just be ourselves.”

Texas has been much more productive at the plate, raising the team batting average to .282 by producing eight or more hits in each of the last 14 games and reaching double digits in nine. The power surge at the plate has been particularly noteworthy with the Horns slugging 12 home runs in the last three games, 42.8 percent of the season total, and 15 in the last five games. Center fielder Eric Kennedy now leads the team with seven home runs while hitting .367, second on the team behind infielder Peyton Powell, who is batting .419 with a .520 on-base percentage and continues to be a revelation. In the five games over the last week, Kennedy hit .550 with five home runs, two doubles, 10 RBI, and nine runs scored.

“I definitely think there’s been development when you look at some of our swing paths and some of the things we’re doing with our lower half and in making those adjustments because we haven’t been hitting through some baseballs — we’ve been early, we’ve been late — and so trying to get our timing down. EK has done a good job of that Peyton’s been very consistent,” Pierce said.

Pierce added he wanted to get more at bats during that stretch for freshmen Jalin Flores and Max Belyeu, as well as veteran Cam Constantine, but catcher Garret Guillemetter is showing positive flashes with his first two home runs at Texas on Tuesday, as is right fielder Dylan Campbell, who has four home runs in the last five games and is now up to .238 on the season.

“DC still, in my opinion, has the best swing of anybody on our team and so when you look at it, his pitch selection becomes key to his offensive success and he’s drawn a lot of walks, scored a lot of runs, but now he’s driving some baseballs to go with that. Good to see Garrett constantly tinkering, sometimes over the top, too much, but when he backspins balls, he can hit it really well, especially for both gaps.”

After some defensive struggles early in the season, moving Powell to third base has helped solidify the infield. At shortstop Mitchell Daly has earned the confidence of the coaching staff as the team’s best infielder after moving from second base while developing his understanding with second baseman Jack O’Dowd.

“The key there is that he doesn’t have to make the spectacular play,” Pierce said of Daly. “What he needs to do is just be very consistent on the routine (plays).”

On the mound, Pierce has tried to find the team’s best five arms and build the pitching staff around them. Heading into conference play, Lucas Gordon has pitched well in the Friday slot, Travis Sthele recently moved into the Saturday role with Lebarron Johnson Jr. slotting in on Sunday instead of pitching midweek, allowing former Saturday starter Zane Morehouse to become the new closer. The new midweek starter, Charlie Hurley, rounds out that group of five with his ability to serve as a key bullpen arm on the weekend.

Texas Tech arrives in Austin with an 18-4 record coming off a series win in Lubbock over then-No. 12 Oklahoma State last weekend that featured a 12-1 victory on Sunday.

Former Texas first baseman Gavin Kash, who Pierce said left the program last year because of his attempts to manage the limited scholarship money available in collegiate baseball, is leading the way for the Red Raiders at the plate with a .440 batting average and .791 slugging percentage with seven home runs. Texas Tech is batting .325 as a team and hit five home runs in the series against Oklahoma State to give them 19 of their 35 home runs over the last eight games.

The list of statistical categories in which the Red Raiders rank in the top 10 nationally is especially impressive — No. 1 in sacrifice files (25), No. 2 in hits (256), No. 2 in double plays (29), No. 2 in double plays/game (1.32), No. 3 in walks (151), No. 5 in runs (223), No. 5 in triples (11), No. 8 in scoring (10.1), No. 8 in doubles (53), No. 8 in on-base percentage (.442), No. 9 in batting average (.325), and No. 9 in triples/game (.818).

The weekend series marks the first time since 2017 that both teams aren’t ranked. Texas Tech swept that series and has won the last two series between the in-state rivals. In seven of the last nine meetings between the two schools, the road team has won the series.

Probable pitching matchups

FRIDAY–Texas LHP Lucas Gordon (2-0, 1.37) vs. Texas Tech RHP Brendan Girton (2-0, 4.50)

SATURDAY–Texas RHP Travis Sthele (2-2, 4.07) vs. Texas Tech LHP Mason Molina (2-1, 2.81)

SUNDAY–Texas TBA vs. Texas Tech TBA

First pitch on Friday is at 6:30 p.m. Central, followed by 2:30 p.m. Central on Saturday and Sunday. Longhorn Network will televise all three games.