When Texas A&M left Texas and the Big 12 for the SEC, it appeared to mark the demise of one of the best rivalries in college sports. That rivalry will be resurrected on the baseball diamond Friday, as the second-seeded Longhorns take on the third-seeded Aggies in the Houston regional of the NCAA Division I Baseball Championship that also includes Rice and George Mason.
Friday's contest will mark the 369th edition of the historic Texas-Texas A&M baseball rivalry, but will be the first time the two teams have faced off in the NCAA tournament.
Despite all the excitement about the matchup against A&M, head coach Augie Garrido managed to keep his team focused on more than just the renewal of a great rivalry.
“We recognize the fans’ point of view and the importance of a Texas-Texas A&M matchup,” Garrido said. “We’re in the tournament to win it and that means Rice will be a very good team, and somehow the fourth seed always plays well in that tournament.”
If the Longhorns do face fourth-seeded George Mason in the double-elimination regional, they would gain nothing from viewing the Patriots as lesser competition, as the team boasts a starting rotation that sports a 2.06 ERA, good for sixth in the nation.
No. 1 seed Rice poses an even greater threat to Texas, as the Owls carry a team .294 batting average, home-field advantage, and the experience of 20 consecutive tournament appearances.
Despite such tough competition coming on the heels of two consecutive losses in the Big 12 tournament, the Longhorns are not looking to change their approach.
“We just need to play our style of baseball,” senior center fielder Mark Payton said. “I feel like we’ve had spurts of it in different times of the year. It just all needs to come together at the right time.”
That style of baseball looks to rely on one of the nation’s top starting rotations led by senior ace Nathan Thornhill and his microscopic 1.51 ERA. The rotation, a bullpen that led the Longhorns to a 31-4 record when leading after six innings and the all-time winningest head coach in NCAA baseball means the Longhorns are well equipped for the competition ahead.
The game begins in Houston at 3 p.m. Friday on ESPNU.