Omaha

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in The Daily Texan on June 9, 2011. Former Longhorns pitcher Taylor Jungmann, profiled here, will play in Saturday's Alumni Game.

Six straight balls. Six painful errors two years ago in Omaha, one after another, that began Taylor Jungmann’s heartbreaking education as a college pitcher.

The Longhorns are clinging to a 6-4 lead in game one of the 2009 College World Series against Louisiana State. It’s the top of the ninth inning. There is one out and a man on first base. Jungmann, a freshman, comes to the mound with orders of closing the game out. Derek Helenihi is the first batter he faces, a right-handed hitter who is hitting .255 and is already 0-for-3 in the game.

Ball one. Then ball two. A third. The take sign is on for Helenihi with a 3-0 count, but Jungmann still can’t get a pitch over the plate. Ball four.

“I think I got a little ahead of myself,” Jungmann said, two years after. “I might have gotten out of the moment.”

Each time Jungmann has failed, he has gone on to succeed. Such inspiration — you could almost call it vengeance — doesn’t completely make up who he is as a pitcher, no. The sheer physicality of Jungmann has a heavy hand in his dominance: the imposing 6-foot-6 righty — from the mound he looks like some Herculean giant — can pitch all game if he has to. His elite weapons, the fastball that cuts into the catcher’s mitt around 94 mph, the slashing slider, and the deceptive change-up, leave batters clueless. But Jungmann’s quiet strength, devoid of fear or apprehension or even a perspective of the moment, and his hunger to always win, has made him the best big-game pitcher in college baseball.

Helenihi takes his free base, which puts Tigers on first and second. Jungmann, clearly rattled, throws ball one to the next batter, Tyler Hanover. Then he throws ball two.

Jungmann is pulled from the game, replaced by fellow freshman Austin Dicharry. Hanover strikes out, but a sharp double down the left-field line by the next batter, DJ LeMahieu, scores both the runner on second and Helenihi to tie the game 6-6.

The Tigers win it two innings later. Jungmann is credited with the tying run.

“Anytime you have an outing like that, you spend the whole night thinking about how you could fix it,” he said.

The next night, Jungmann redeemed himself, throwing a complete game, allowing one run on five hits and striking out nine Tigers in a 5-1 win. He threw 120 pitches that night. But still, you couldn’t help but think about the fact that, had he done his job in game one, the series would have been over and Texas would have been headed back to Austin with its seventh national championship.

“I still think about it,” he said. “I see the guys like [volunteer assistant coach] Travis Tucker who are still around here that were on the team. I think about if I were able to close that first game out, we could have won it.”

The cruelty of baseball revealed itself in game three, where Jungmann had to watch as the Tigers pounced — winning 11-4 in a runaway.

He took what he had to learn the hard way in Omaha — to not play out of the moment — and applied it to his sophomore season, winning eight games, none bigger than game two in the Super Regional against TCU. Staring down elimination — the Horned Frogs had won the first of the best-of-three series — Jungmann pitched his team to a 15-1 win.

“I try not to think about situations,” he said. “You have to try not to look at a big game differently.”

Texas forgot to save some runs, and lost it the next day 4-1.

This season, Jungmann has taken dominance to another level. Before postseason play, he was the nation’s best at 13-0, with an ERA of less than one. After he took down Texas A&M in the biggest game of the year — in College Station, no less — head coach Augie Garrido said that his ace was the best he had seen since Jered Weaver . Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson, who has groomed big-leaguers such as Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey, agreed with Garrido.

“I think he’s probably the best I’ve ever coached,” Johnson said. “He has a gift.”

The Big 12 Pitcher-of-the-Year Award went to Jungmann, and he’s been named one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award , college baseball’s Heisman Trophy. Everything was going so well for him, until rare and unexpected failure finally struck again Saturday against Kent State in the Austin Regional.

His eyes are wet and his voice is strained. It is the most uncomfortable press conference of Taylor Jungmann’s life. He has just been rocked by Kent State in a pivotal game of the Austin Regional, and now, his Longhorns are a loss away from elimination. Nobody knew how to deal with it — his teammates admit they are shocked to see their All-American pitcher get knocked out by a three-seed. Said senior first baseman Tant Shepherd : “We had never seen anything like that happen to him.” The last thing Jungmann wants to do after this loss, his first of the year, is sit in front of the hot lights and answer the media’s whys and hows.

“I just didn’t have it,” he says, staring into space.

In the sixth inning, Jungmann was mercifully pulled from the game. As he walked off the mound and into the dugout after allowing a grand slam, a walk and a single in one inning, he was given a standing ovation by the gracious Texas crowd, aware that it might never see big No. 26 on the mound at Disch-Falk again.

“By the time I was done pitching, I wasn’t happy,” he said. “I didn’t even hear them.”

Thankfully for Jungmann, the Longhorns sent Texas State and Kent State home, winning three in a row to set up this weekend’s Super Regional. Now Jungmann gets the ball Friday with the chance to redeem his reputation as the best big-game pitcher around and set the tone for a possible return trip to Omaha. And we all know how Jungmann reacts
to failure.

“I’ve been bad before,” he said, “And the next time up, it’s a totally different game.”

Although Texas’ 2014 season ended in heartbreak to eventual champions Vanderbilt on a walk-off, game-losing infield single in the 10th inning, Texas’ return to Omaha was a necessary step for the revival of Texas baseball. 

After a two year hiatus from the NCAA tournament, Texas took full advantage of getting back to the postseason — coming within one game of the Championship Series.

In the postseason, Texas’ pitchers combined for a 1.25 ERA in 11 games, including three shutouts and an additional game where they surrendered zero earned runs. With their dominant performances, there was no doubt that their pitching staff willed the Longhorns on their run.

On offense, it was another story, as the starting lineup struck out 13 more times than it got hits in Omaha. Texas’ one through three hitters batted a combined 0-for-13 in the season-ending loss to Vanderbilt.  

Despite the team’s struggles on the biggest stage, expect the Texas offense to take a huge leap in production. Meanwhile, with the Longhorns losing a few of their top pitchers from the 2014 squad including ace Nathan Thornhill, the bats will need to do just that if the Longhorns are to make their 36th trip to the College World Series this summer.

The Longhorns return only 244 of their 601 innings pitched from a season ago, while the lineup returns 19 of 22 home runs and 446 of their 573 hits from 2014.

Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa, who is the team’s returning leader in batting average having hit .298 a season ago, will be the key barometer of whether the Longhorns have the firepower to win it all.

Hinojosa is primed for an All-American caliber season after being named to the College World Series All-Tournament Team as a sophomore.

Sophomore catcher Tres Barrera is another key piece to the puzzle, as he will likely continue to bat cleanup. However, he went just 2-for-19 with nine strikeouts in Omaha.

Barrera’s second trip to TD Ameritrade Park was much better than the first, winning the College Home Run Derby with a record 25 dingers in the final round.

Barrera displayed some pop in his bat with five home runs as a freshman and could make a Cameron Rupp-esque jump in that category during his sophomore campaign. In 2009, Rupp clouted a team-high 11 homers after hitting only four as a freshman.

Finally, junior left fielder Ben Johnson could also see a drastic jump in his home run total after leading the team in the category in his first two  seasons. With the NCAA flattening the seams of the balls, it should result in balls flying roughly 20 feet further, Johnson could very well be the first Longhorn with a double-digit home run total since 2010.

Expectations are high for a team hungry after success a season ago. Despite heavy losses on the mound, the pitching game will work itself out, and, ultimately, it’ll be the hitting that could produce the seventh dog pile in school history.

Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

OMAHA, Neb. – Before any of the reporters could ask any questions, before the moderator even had a chance to introduce the Texas players in the post-game press conference, Augie Garrido dropped his bag and took a seat at the podium.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said. “But we have 27 kids with broken hearts and I thought it was important to talk to them.”

Broken hearts indeed, and reasonably so.

The Longhorns’ rollercoaster season came to an end Saturday night, as Texas dropped a 10-inning, 4-3 decision to Vanderbilt at TD Ameritrade Park, ending their tremendous run in Omaha.

“Both teams really gave it everything they had,” Garrido said. “Simply, [the Commodores] got one more run than we did and they get to move on because of it.”

Vanderbilt’s walk-off win in extra innings brought an abrupt end to a College World Series run that was just as surprising as it was impressive for Garrido’s ball club.

After losing their opener to UC Irvine last Saturday, the Longhorns had no room for error the rest of the way. They had to win four straight to advance to the Championship Series, and they fell one victory short.

“The pain that goes along with taking the risks that they did, to go all in and put everything they had on the line like they did, is emotionally very difficult to deal with when you don’t have a lot of experience with the down side of it,” Garrido said.

Certainly Texas will be disappointed with the result, as they were unsuccessful in reaching their goal of winning a National Championship in 2014.

But considering how inexperienced so many of the players on this team were in February, and how poorly this team was playing in April, their unlikely run in June can’t be considered a failure.

“They have life experiences here,” Garrido said. “It’ll help them later on, whether they choose to compete in business or whatever they chose to be. They no longer fear failure because it isn’t a failure when you do your best, and they did that.”

Garrido continued to heap on the praise after the tough loss, as a few of his players sat beside him at the podium, each with a unique look of deflation cast across their sweaty faces.

“This group is the best team since 2005 at Texas in my opinion,” he boasted. “And they have every reason to treat themselves like champions.”

Just like last year, and any year that Texas has failed to dog-pile in Omaha, this season ends with a loss. But unlike last season, when many of these same players were part of one of Texas baseball’s worst teams of all-time, the feeling is that this year was, in many ways, a success.

“Once the grieving stops, and it will take place for a while, then they need to recognize clearly what they’ve won,” Garrido said. “They’ve won a hell of a lot more than they’ve lost.”

Longhorn players reflect on their season as they sit in the dugout after losing, 4-3, to Vanderbilt Saturday, ending their College World Series run.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

OMAHA, Neb. - Sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa nearly came up with the big hit in the top of the 10th inning and was unable to make the play in the bottom of the 10th, as Vanderbilt defeated the Longhorns in the 4-3 in extra innings Saturday.

Hinojosa crushed a ball to deep right-center field to lead off the top of 10th that appeared to be an extra base hit, but Vanderbilt’s Rhett Wiseman had other ideas, sliding to snag the ball with a web-gem caliber catch for the out.

"Probably the best swing I had all day," Hinojosa said. "And off the bat I did think it was over his head. He's a good outfielder, he tracked it well and made a great play on it."

In the bottom of the inning, Vanderbilt rallied with two outs. Wiseman singled off of sophomore pitcher John Curtiss and stole second base, which led to Curtiss walking Vandy’s Ro Coleman. Curtiss then beaned Karl Eddison to load the bases for Tyler Campbell, who was making only his third start of the season in place of suspended Xavier Turner.

Campbell hit Curtiss’ 1-1 pitch toward the left side of the infield and legged out Hinojosa’s throw to first, allowing Wiseman to score the game-winning run.

"I got the first [two] guys out," Curtiss said matter of factly after the game. "But then they got a hit, then I walked a guy, then I hit the guy. And then I gave up the game losing infield single. That's the way baseball goes."

The hit batter, who was only hitting .203 for the season, to load the bases was yet another error in an imperfectly played game by the Longhorns and it ultimately cost them.

Texas got into trouble early against the Commodores, who took a 1-0 lead in a first inning that could’ve resulted in a lot more damage as they twice loaded the bases, but only came away with one run.

The Longhorn bats were dormant in the first three innings, going a combined 1-for-8 while stranding three.

Vanderbilt extended its lead to 2-0 with the help of two Texas errors in the bottom half of the third inning.

But the Longhorns weren’t going to go down without displaying the signature grit that helped them go from fifth place in the Big 12 to one of the final four standing in Omaha.

Hinojosa led off the fourth inning with a double and was advanced to third base after junior right fielder Collin Shaw reached on a bunt hit.  Sophomore leftfielder Ben Johnson proceeded to walk, which loaded the bases. After Tres Barrera struck out, freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens delivered with a single that scored two and evened the ball game.

The Longhorns had another opportunity in the fifth inning and appeared to be getting to Vanderbilt’s Carson Fulmer. Senior centerfielder Mark Payton walked with one out then advanced to second on a failed pick off and then third on a wild pitch. Hinojosa walked on four pitches and Shaw forced an eight-pitch walk to load the bases, spelling the end of Fulmer’s night.

However, Vanderbilt replaced him with freshman Hayden Stone, who induced an inning ending double play on his first offering to Johnson.

The Commodores took the 3-2 lead in the bottom of the frame when Wiseman crushed the ball deep towards the very top of the wall in right field, driving in the go ahead run. 

Barrera led off the sixth inning with a triple to center field and, after a strike out by Clemens, Gurwitz delivered a one-out single to tie the game at three.  Gurwitz managed to advance to second on a failed pick off, but senior designated hitter Madison Carter struck out to end the threat.

And with that went Texas’ final threat to take the lead. The Longhorns never lead in this one and fatally stranded 10 runners on base. 

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns’ journey to this year’s College World Series didn’t start on Valentine’s Day in California, when Texas opened its season against the California Golden Bears.

It didn’t start last fall, when the team was barred from its own clubhouse and forced to feel like visitors in their own ballpark as they went through exhaustive workouts and team bonding exercises.

No, the Longhorns’ surprising run to Omaha began last summer, when their two veteran leaders, Nathan Thornhill and Mark Payton, passed on the opportunity to go pro and elected to return to Austin for their senior season.

“Getting to the College World Series was one of our goals when we decided to come back together,” Payton said. “We’re not done with our job yet. We have a lot more work to do, but it feels good to know that we’re getting close to what we came back for.”

While Thornhill and Payton both attribute their return to a mutual desire to bring the Texas baseball program back to the national powerhouse it has long been known as, head coach Augie Garrido said it wasn’t that easy.

“It took four months of begging on my part,” Garrido said.

No matter how much pleading it might have taken, there’s no doubt Garrido’s efforts were worth it, given how much of an impact the two seniors have had on his ball club.

Thornhill, a Cedar Park native, has been Texas’ most efficient and dependable pitcher this season, taking the mound in several of the Longhorns’ most important contests. As the anchor of perhaps the best pitching staff Garrido has coached at Texas, Thornhill’s 8-2 record and 1.57 ERA entering the College World Series are an obvious explanation of why his manager gave him the ball in the opener.

Payton, who hails from Chicago, has meant just as much to the Longhorn lineup as Thornhill has to their pitching staff. The 5’8” spark plug has come up with countless clutch hits and is as sure-handed as they come in center field. His incomprehensible 101-game on-base streak finally came to an end in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine in Omaha, but Payton’s consistent play has been vital to Texas’ success all season.

“[Payton’s] a very selfless person,” sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa said. “The word selfish is used a lot in baseball and this kid is the complete opposite of that. He is always looking out for the guy next to him. That’s part of what’s good because he is our senior leader along with Nate [Thornhill].”

While Thornhill and Payton’s respective contributions to the team’s success on the diamond can’t be overstated, it is their leadership off the field that has helped the younger players overcome the struggles of the last two seasons.

As two of only four players left from the 2011 team that made it to Omaha, Thornhill and Payton have worked all season to instill in their teammates an understanding of just how much effort it takes to get to that point.

Now that they’ve made it, the two veteran leaders have a simple message for their young teammates: Just play ball, relax and enjoy the experience

“The guys who haven’t been are just going to have to hop in and do what they’ve done to get us to this point,” Payton said. “You just have to jump in and play your game and have fun doing it. Obviously, you can’t take going to the College World Series for granted. You just have to go out and have fun doing it.

Now settled in at the College World Series, Thornhill and Payton have certainly had time to reflect on their final season wearing burnt orange. It’s been an incredible ride, but there is still work to be done.

“It is,” Thornhill said when asked if this NCAA Tournament run has been somewhat of a fairy tale ending. “Not yet though. Being [in Omaha] is one thing, but winning there is a whole other thing.”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

Three whole years — that’s how long it took for the senior Longhorns’ to return to Omaha for the College World Series. 

After making the trip to Omaha as freshmen, Texas’ senior class assumed the journey to the Midwest would be an annual occurrence. But the last couple of years haven’t been too kind to Texas baseball. After the 2011 season, it seemed as though all success had evaded the team.

“I took [success] for granted,” senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill said at a press conference. “Baseball kind of came back to get me.”

For Thornhill and fellow senior Mark Payton, the sense of unfinished business brought them back to Austin for their senior years. Both players passed up the opportunity to turn pro after being drafted in the 2013 MLB draft, but there was never any doubt that they had made the right decision by staying in school.

“It was worth it before we were going to Omaha,” Thornhill said. “It was in the fall knowing that we were doing everything we could to get going in the right direction. Going to Omaha and having an opportunity to compete for a national championship is icing on the cake.”

Those fall workouts were grueling, but they prepared the team to battle through a difficult Big 12 schedule — a conference with two other teams in the College World Series. The workouts got the team ready to go through a tough regional that included Rice and rival Texas A&M, and they also helped Texas sweep Houston to advance to Omaha. But most importantly, fall training brought the players together and helped them form a strong bond.

“A great group of guys: That’s one thing that helps it,” Thornhill said. “We’ve suffered together. We’ve won together. That’s what makes you brothers, and that’s what makes us a great team. We still love each other, and it’s been a lot of fun.” 

So now more than ever, the team will look to each other to make their run at a national championship, a feat that has not been accomplished since 2005. Head coach Augie Garrido wants his team to focus on one another rather than worrying about the uncontrollable things. 

“It’s still about staying focused on one another and playing the game the way you know how,” Garrido said. “Play the game that you have. Don’t try to create a new one now that you’re in a different environment.”

While nerves may factor into the games, the environment the Longhorns will be playing in won’t be overwhelmingly different. TD Ameritrade Park plays incredibly big, much like Texas’ UFCU Disch-Falk Field. 

The competition won’t be any more difficult than the teams they had to get past to get to this point. The key to the Longhorns success in Omaha will be whether they trust themselves and don’t overthink the game.

“That’s all you can ever do, we teach that from the very beginning,” Garrido said. “It’s about the game. You have to have respect for the game itself and you have to play the game and not the opponent.”

Now that Texas has played a game in Omaha, a 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine, the younger players also know how it feels to make it to college baseball’s biggest stage. Despite the new environment for most of the players, Texas will continue, as it has all season, to rely on each other throughout their championship run.

“As a team we’re going out there for each other,” Payton said. “That’s what we’re doing right now, just going out playing for each other, playing for the coaches, playing for the guy next to us and not letting each other down.”

Texas players celebrate after a 4-0 series win over the Houston Cougars in the NCAA Super Regionals on Saturday afternoon. The Longhorns will move on to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 2011.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time since 2011, the Texas Longhorns will play in the College World Series.

Despite being outhit in the contest, Texas beat the Houston Cougars, 4-0, at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Saturday to win its Super Regional and earn a trip to Omaha for the first time in three years.

“Once again, it’s about runs, not hits,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. “They had 10 hits, we had eight, but it was about runs.”

The Longhorns broke things open in the fourth inning as they batted around, scoring four runs on six hits in the frame.

C.J Hinojosa, who has been phenomenal throughout the NCAA Tournament for Texas, singled to right field with the bases loaded to drive in the first two runs of the afternoon.

“[Hinojosa’s] hit broke the game open and started the momentum,” Garrido said.

From there, Collin Shaw and Kacy Clemens each drove in a run to clear the bases and give Texas a four run lead. 

Those runs proved to be all the Longhorns would need on the day, as the Texas pitching staff combined to shut out the Cougars.

Junior Parker French got the start for the Longhorns and pitched six shutout innings, giving up just five hits.

“I wasn’t going to let these guys down today,” French said. “I didn’t want to lose this game. It was just pure will power, pitching for my teammates.”

Travis Duke, Morgan Cooper and John Curtiss came out of the bullpen for the Longhorns and gave up a total of six hits over the final three innings.

While Houston failed to score any runs, they threatened several times. The Cougars loaded the bases on multiple occasions but each time Texas was able to slam the door, stranding 14 Houston runners in the contest.

“They had the bases loaded a couple of times, and it didn’t work out for them,” Garrido said. “But that’s many times what separates two good teams. On any given day, the balls you hit hard don’t always fall.”

The Longhorns will now make their 35th College World Series appearance, but it will be the first for many players on the team. Of the 27 players on this year’s roster, only four were on the squad that went to Omaha in 2011.

“We just have to play our game [in Omaha],” said senior centerfielder Mark Payton, who was a member of the 2011 team. “The team that relaxes is the team that’s going to win the game. My job is just to keep these guys relaxed and make sure they’re having fun.”

Junior Erich Weiss contemplates the disappointments of the past two seasons as he considers returning for senior year.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

A baseball crashed into Erich Weiss’s face two weeks ago, fracturing his nose and leaving a cut running down to his right cheek. In an unfortunate way, it’s perfectly symbolic of Weiss’ last two seasons and of his career: another bad break. 

“It’s tough to accept,” Weiss said. “The season’s not over yet, we can still make a run for it, but we’ve gone through a lot so far.”

This much is clear: Weiss’ first appearance as a Longhorn, two seasons ago, was no fluke. For his first career hit, he tripled into right field. He finished the weekend hitting .818. That year, the Longhorns went to Omaha, and Weiss was the star at the plate. He did it again in 2012, hitting .350. He’s doing it again this time around, second on the team in hitting (.309) as a junior.

The mood the past two seasons, however, is different. At 23-20, the Longhorns are not a good baseball team, despite a very good pitching staff and the efforts of Weiss and Mark Payton (.379). They weren’t good last season, either, missing the NCAA postseason for the first time since 1998. If the season were to end today, the Longhorns wouldn’t even make the conference tournament.

What looked inevitable two summers ago after the Longhorns lost their first two games in the College World Series has not happened. 

“When we left Omaha, we said, ‘We’ll be back,’” Weiss said. “We all assumed we’d be back there. I kind of felt it’d be like that the rest of my time here.”

The loss to North Carolina — the one that sent them packing from Omaha — was made easier to stomach because the Longhorns were young and just scraping their potential. They’d get back, they’d be better, maybe they’d dogpile. The absence of Taylor Jungmann and Brandon Loy would hurt, but not that much — more talent, like Parker French and Dillon Peters and C.J. Hinojosa was on the way — and the core five of freshmen starters (Weiss, Payton, superstar closer Corey Knebel, pitcher Nathan Thornhill and catcher Jacob Felts) would only get better. 

Instead, the Longhorns are a combined 53-42 the last two seasons. 

“It is sad,” Weiss said. “It’s difficult because we’ve grown so close over the years at Texas, too, and we all want to win — everybody wants to win. It’s just hard when you don’t.”

The Texas players will have you believe there’s a run left in them, that this season shouldn’t be considered dead.

“The team we have is really good,” Knebel said weeks ago. “It just hasn’t gone our way sometimes.”

With Weiss and Payton the only players hitting above .300, it’d be a miracle if the Longhorns were to win their next two conference series, against Kansas State and TCU, after not having won one all spring. If they get in the Big 12 tourney, they’d likely have to win it all to make an NCAA Regional. 

“Hopefully we can make a stand,” Weiss said.

For Weiss, the last two years have been unlike anything he’s ever experienced. He was a winner right out of the chute in college. At Brenham High School, he said the varsity won 18 straight games while he was a junior and won the State Championship his senior year. 

“I had gotten used to winning. I had never been on a team that lost a lot,” Weiss said. “It’ll be okay after we’re gone, in the future.”

Ah, the future. In a December interview, Weiss intimated to me this season would be his last in Austin, as he’ll be selected in the earlier rounds of June’s MLB Draft. But Wednesday, in a brief break before a workout and Texas’ practice at Disch-Falk Field, he didn’t balk at the suggestion he might return for his senior season if this campaign leaves too bitter of a taste. He’s gotten through this one by his love of baseball and of his school — “We still get to play at the University of Texas, and that’s still unbelievable” — and, when asked what will be the biggest takeaway from his time on the 40 Acres, Weiss sounded like a man still with plenty to accomplish and like a man who knew how good he had it.

“I wish there was a memory of me holding a trophy up,” he said with a sigh. “But it’s hard to say it’s going to be that much better after college — you don’t get to stay at the (supposedly-haunted) Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City, you don’t get to eat all this good food.”

And with that Erich Weiss stood up, said goodbye and walked back into the clubhouse to get his practice gear, presumably ready to finish what he started.

The Longhorns are pitching too well for them to be 12-8, winless in conference play and on the road.

Texas travels to Minnesota for a three-game series this weekend hoping to score more than the four runs it put up in last weekend’s series against Texas Tech and the three runs in its only other road weekend series of the year, when the Longhorns were swept by Stanford in Palo Alto for the second straight year.

Hoping to raise its dismal .256 team batting average, which is lower than the .263 mark that left longtime Texas assistant Tommy Harmon without a job. Former Longhorns second baseman and current hitting coach Tommy Nicholson, who is more than half Harmon’s age, hasn’t helped Texas make any strides at the plate yet.

With the Longhorns’ pitching staff performing at the College World Series level, their bats have to come alive for them to have a chance at going to Omaha.

Parker French, who will skip this week’s start, threw six shutout innings before leaving last Friday’s game against the Red Raiders with forearm tightness. Ty Marlow’s first pitch was taken deep by Jarrard Poteete in the seventh and French’s efforts were wasted.

In the Longhorns’ only win over Texas Tech last week, Dillon Peters allowed just one run on five hits in 8.3 innings but left with the game tied at 1. Corey Knebel struck out the only two batters he faced and picked up the win after Jacob Felts’ walk-off double in the bottom of the ninth.

Nathan Thornhill surrendered three runs on five hits in six innings, striking out seven without issuing a walk Sunday but took the loss as the two runs Texas scored in the second inning would be the only runs it scored the whole game.

“The series was very disappointing,” head coach Augie Garrido said after Sunday’s loss. “This season will be determined by and our team is going to evolve as a result of the adversity that we face. It is how the teams evolve that matters. … This game is all about who you become from the middle part of the season to the end.”

Texas got three quality starts last weekend and yet not a single starting pitcher picked up a win. The Longhorns held Texas Tech to a .159 batting average in those three games but posted a meager .223 average themselves. That’s a disturbing trend for a team with College World Series aspirations.

When Texas went to Omaha two seasons ago, its 2.35 team ERA was the second best in the nation and the 6.38 hits per nine innings it allowed were the fewest in the country. The Longhorns (2.60 team ERA, 7.43 hits per nine innings) aren’t far behind this year but won’t come close to reaching the College World Series if they can’t turn things around at the plate.

Road to Omaha: Father’s Day

I was unable to spend Father’s Day with my Dad, due to the fact that I am currently in Omaha for the College World Series.

Just like my dad predicted. Let me explain.

The year is 2003, and I am the starting pitcher on my little league team. I had just thrown a complete-game shutout, scattering three or four hits, in a sixth-grade baseball game. As was the custom, my dad wanted to take me out for a celebratory ice cream at the Ben & Jerry’s down the street. We were about done and ready to go home, when he turned to me and, in a serious tone, said something I will never forget.

“Son,” he said, “I want you to start spending most of your time getting better at baseball. You’re talented. If you keep working hard, well, you may be on your way to the College World Series with Augie Garrido one day.”

I nearly choked on my waffle cone. My dad was always my biggest fan, a man who seemingly lived and died by the results of my baseball games, sitting right behind home plate, on hand with a yellow Gatorade whenever I needed it. But he was never one to push sports or demand particular greatness, yet there he was suggesting to me that I would one day be good enough to play at the University of Texas.

A year later, I played my last baseball game. There was no horrific injury — yeah, you know, I had to get Tommy John surgery in sixth grade. I just wasn’t very good at it anymore, and I didn’t love playing it like I used to.

There would soon be something I enjoyed doing even more: writing. As I have worked my way up the ranks — from some very ridiculous blog posts to my high school news magazine and now The Daily Texan, my dad has been the one person who reads every single article I write, akin to the days when he would miss an important meeting before he missed one of my games.

My dad was just as supportive of my final athletic endeavor — rec basketball — showing up to every single game. He cheered wildly at each of them, except the final game of my senior “season,” when we were losing to annoying private schoolers by 40 and became belligerent — laying into them with hard fouls and language so offensive it would have made Augie Garrido blush (the refs swallowed the whistle because it was the final game of our high school “careers”).

Disgusted, my Dad walked out of the gym after I picked up what should have been my ninth foul, a hip-check that sent a pretty boy flying into the scorer’s table. Needless to say, there was no Gatorade after the game.

I had a nice phone call with my dad on Father’s Day. We talked about my trip — he’s thrilled for me — and how he thinks his Longhorns will do Monday. He didn’t ask or expect a Father’s Day gift — which is good, because I’m still deciding what to get him.

Maybe we can just get ice cream.