This weekend, the No. 6 Longhorns’ goal for their opening series at Rice is simple.
“[I want them] not to be nervous like we were against Cal last season,” head coach Augie Garrido said.
Last year, in the opening series at California, Texas committed six errors in its first two games, quickly earning a 0–2 record, before recovering to take the next two games of the series.
A similiar performance this weekend against No. 13 Rice would likely end up with disastrous consequences. The Owls enter the season as the unanimous choice to win Conference USA and a fellow contender to make it to Omaha, Nebraska, in June.
Rice’s junior pitcher, Blake Fox, was named the preseason pitcher of the year for the conference after posting a 1.46 ERA last year, and senior catcher John Clay Reeves was tabbed the preseason player of the year.
But Texas senior second baseman Brooks Marlow said the team is not worried about how Rice is doing.
“We’ve just got to take it pitch-by-pitch and game-by-game,” Marlow said. “It doesn’t matter who we play; we’re just going to play
The Longhorns have firepower of their own, with 22 returning players from last year’s team, including seven starting position players who made a run at the College World Series. Texas even beat Rice in the regional round of the NCAA tournament last year.
Garrido said experience should help eliminate the early-season errors they had last year.
“They most likely will not doubt themselves as much [this year] because of that,” Garrido said. “That is my hope at Rice.”
One potential early-season weak spot is the team’s pitching. While senior pitcher Parker French will get the start Friday, sophomore pitchers Kacy Clemens and Josh Sawyer, Saturday’s starters, have yet to see substantial time on the hill in collegiate action. Last year’s postseason star, junior pitcher Chad Hollingsworth, is coming off shoulder issues from the summer.
On the offensive side of things, the Longhorns stand out. Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa, sophomore catcher Tres Barrera and Marlow, who drilled four home runs last year, are just the tip of the iceberg of what Texas brings to the batter’s box this year.
With freshmen such as catcher Michael Cantu, who hit .352 in high school, and third baseman Bret Boswell, who hit .410 before coming to college, Texas feels confident it’ll be solid on all sides of the ball this year.
“We’ve got one of the best pitching staffs, and we have one of the toughest hitting lineups in the country,” Marlow said. “I think it’s all going to come together, and it’s going to be really good.”
How good the Longhorns will be this season probably won’t be determined during this four-game series, given the ups and downs the team had last season on its run to the College World Series.
Still, the Longhorns want to make a statement this weekend.
“We’ve got to go out there and play a hard game,” Marlow said. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen that need to get their feet wet. This is the weekend to do it and see how they’re going to react to the atmosphere around them and see what they’re capable of.”