World Series

Freshman pitcher Connor Mayes got a pair of big outs to help Texas escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and propel Texas to its first win since March 22.
Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns’ road back to the College World Series will start in Dallas this weekend.

Texas was selected as the No. 3 seed in the Dallas Regional and will face Oregon State at 1:30 p.m. Friday, the selection committee announced Monday morning. Dallas Baptist and Virginia Commonwealth are the other two teams in the double-elimination tournament.

Just a couple weeks ago, the Longhorns seemed destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in three years. Texas was 2–10 against the top-four teams in the Big 12 and needed to win the conference tournament to reach the regionals.

But the Longhorns went on a run this past weekend in Tulsa. Senior Parker French, junior Ty Culbreth and freshman Connor Mayes each threw complete games, and sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz lined a go-ahead RBI single in the championship game Sunday as Texas went 4–0 in the conference tournament.

Duplicating that success in the Dallas Regional, however, will be no easy task.

Dallas Baptist, which just fell short in its bid to be one of the eight national seeds, is hosting a regional for the first time in its history. The Patriots led the Missouri Valley Conference in a number of offensive categories and was second in the conference with 3.40 team ERA.

Oregon State, Texas’ opponent for Friday, finished second in the Pac-12 this season. The Beavers have relied primarily on their pitching with a 2.88 ERA, but they have also drilled 40 home runs this season.

VCU got into the tournament by winning its first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference Championship with a 5–3 win over Rhode Island on Saturday. The Rams led the conference with a 2.97 team ERA, and VCU had three pitchers in the top six in ERA in the conference.

The winner of the Dallas Regional will face the winner of the Miami Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional series next weekend for a spot in the College World Series. 

Although Texas has been able to rack up hits during the season, it is struggling to bring in runners in scoring position.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

In the summer of 1975, then head coach Cliff Gustafson led Texas baseball to the first of two national titles it would win under his watch. For the Longhorns program, this marked their seventh College World Series appearance in Gustafson’s first eight seasons at the helm.

But over the next three seasons, the program missed the NCAA Tournament twice, including a humbling 1978 season when the it had a 12-12 record in conference play. Texas bounced back in 1979, reaching the College World Series semifinals and would not miss the tournament field for the rest of Gustafson’s tenure. 

Similarly, in 2011, the Longhorns reached Omaha for the seventh time under head coach Augie Garrido, but they were eliminated after losing both of their games. Up to that point, Texas had been as good as any program in the nation since Garrido took over in 1997, with two National titles in the previous decade. 

The Longhorns missed the NCAA Tournament in both 2012 and 2013, dropping every series in Big 12 play in 2013. Similarly to 1979, in 2014, they bounced back from a couple seasons of frustration to reach the College World Series semi-finals. 

Texas, ranking in the top 10 in preseason polls, entered the 2015 season with high expectations as a squad capable of producing another celebration in Omaha. Instead, barring a miraculous turnaround, this team could be remembered as one of the biggest disappointments in program history. 

The Longhorns are currently in grave danger of missing the NCAA Tournament field for the third time in the past four seasons. This would make the members of the current senior class the first since the NCAA Tournament began to make fewer than two appearances during their four-year careers. 

Texas sits at 82nd in the country in RPI and are 0–9 against the RPI top 25, including sweeps at the hands of TCU this past weekend. The Longhorns pounded out 30 hits during the series and are batting .316 in their past eight games, raising their season batting average from .242 to .253. Texas also slugged at a .515 clip raising its total on the season from .361 to .391.  

During that same span the team produced at least four runs in five games, after doing so only three times in its previous 12 games. However the production of the Texas bats has not guaranteed a win, as the Longhorns are just 4–4 in the past seven games because of struggles on the mound and on defense. 

Texas’ opponents have also scored 45 runs over this time, an average of over 5.5 allowed runs per game. Of those runs, 31 of them have been earned, pushing the team’s total ERA above 3.00 for the first time since the February series against Minnesota. 

With just two conference series left in the regular season, it appears the Longhorns will be unable to build on the momentum of last season’s postseason run. Unless they win the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City, which would give them an automatic bid, the Longhorns are almost certainly going to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four seasons.

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

The Big 12 was something of a powerhouse in 2014. 

The conference saw two teams reach the semifinals of the College World Series, three play in the quarterfinals and four ranked in the top 10 of all four national polls at the end of the regular season. 

But with the season well underway and the conference tournament just over a month away, only two Big 12 teams find themselves fulfilling national expectations. 

The ranked teams

Baseball America has TCU (25–6, 6–3 Big 12) tabbed as the fourth-best team in the country. 

The Horned Frogs are fueled by their pitching staff, which boasts a 1.98 ERA — the best in the nation. 

They aren’t explosive offensively — as a team, the players have hit just nine home runs — but they are consistent. Senior outfielder Cody Jones leads the offensive production with a .347 batting average. 

Oklahoma State (23–9, 7–2 Big 12) currently sits atop the conference and is No. 15 in Baseball America’s latest poll. The Cowboys have the nation’s seventh-best team ERA at 2.42 and lead the Big 12 in runs scored with 227. While Oklahoma State’s pitching is impressive, its offense is even better — just ask Oklahoma.

Oklahoma State eviscerates Oklahoma

As previously mentioned, the game between the Cowboys and the Sooners displayed just how dominant the Cowboys offense can be. They didn’t just beat Oklahoma — they beat them down. 

Behind a 20-hit effort, the Cowboys won with a final score of 24–2 in the nonconference matchup. It was the largest margin of victory in the history of the Bedlam series.

The loss ended the Sooners’ five-game win streak, which included a three-game sweep over conference opponent Kansas. Oklahoma (22–13, 6–3 Big 12) is currently tied for second in the Big 12 standings.

On a losing skid

Since its 2–1 series win over Kansas at the end of March, Texas Tech has lost four of its last five games. As a result, Texas Tech, which was ranked No. 19 last week, fell out of Baseball America’s weekly rankings this week. 

Baseball America ranked the Red Raiders No. 5 in the preseason following their College World Series appearance, the first in program history. Tech returns 22 players from last season’s roster, including its entire starting infield, two starters in the outfield and eight pitchers who started games last season. 

Texas snapped a seven-game losing streak, which included a sweep to Oklahoma State, with a win over Wichita State on Tuesday night. 

Weekly Awards

Oklahoma junior first baseman Anthony Hemelyn earned the Phillips 66 Big 12 Player of the Week award on April 6. The Pitcher of the Week award went to Texas Tech senior left-hander Cameron Smith. Kansas freshman third baseman Matt McLaughlin and West Virginia junior right-hander Blake Smith shared Newcomer of the Week honors. 

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Reaching the College World Series is not the goal for Texas. It’s an expectation. 

The Longhorns have made 35 appearances in the program’s storied history, 12 more than the University of Miami, which ranks second. Since 2000, eight Texas squads have finished their seasons in Omaha, which alone would tie the University of Florida for the 17th most in the country.

After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 Longhorns nearly played for the national title as part of a surprising run to Omaha. Texas’ season ended in the 10th inning of an elimination game against the eventual champions, Vanderbilt, on a walk-off infield single with two outs.

The nature of the loss, combined with the returning talent and incoming freshmen, made many believe that the year’s team had the ability and grit to play for the championship that eluded its 2014 counterparts.

The Longhorns returned seven of its nine players in its starting lineup and added some touted freshmen, such as first baseman and catcher Michael Cantu.

With so much returning experience, the Longhorns were expected to produce a fairly potent offense. Instead, through 28 games, the Longhorns have scored 233 runs, which equates to 5.07 per game, just over one-half a run better than the 4.46 it averaged in 2014.

In last weekend’s disastrous series in Lincoln against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Longhorns mustered only 12 hits in 105 at-bats, while scoring three runs in 33 innings. In three games, Texas’ team batting average dropped nearly 20 points, from .270 entering the weekend to .252.

However, the bats have given fans some reasons to be optimistic, such as the team’s slugging percentage, which sits at .395, up from the .353 it hit a year ago. This is a result of the 2.96 bases hits the team is averaging per game, after only averaging 2.03 such hits last season.

In contrast, Texas’ pitching staff has suffered significant losses to the MLB Draft and graduation, with senior right-handed pitcher Parker French as its only returning weekend starter. After two months of the season, the starting rotation seems set, as junior right-handed pitcher Chad Hollingsworth and sophomore right-handed pitcher Kacy Clemens are settling in as the other weekend starters.

The staff’s ERA is currently 2.67, down from 2.25 it posted a season ago, but it’s been performing better as of late. However, Texas has been unable to get its hitting and pitching clicking concurrently.

As a result, the Longhorns have already lost 11 times in 28 games. Texas didn’t suffer its 11th loss until its 41st contest a season ago. This year’s team has battled adversity from the start of the season, while the 2014 team’s struggles came in the form of dropping seven of nine during a crucial stretch in conference play from mid-April to early May.

Texas just needs to win enough to secure a tournament bid, as it’s converted three of its four trips into College World Series appearances since 2009. This team has enough talent to reach the College World Series for the 36th time in program history, and it very well might start with a strong showing in this weekend’s series at Oklahoma State.

2015 already looking promising for Chicago Cubs

From the curse of the Billy Goat to Steve Bartman, the past 106 years of baseball on the north side of Chicago have been nothing, but disappointing. The Chicago Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and their last World Series appearance was in 1945.

Despite these unfathomable truths the Cubs still have hope.

For one, Hollywood predicted a Cubs World Series win in the 1989 movie “Back to the Future II.” But more importantly, the Cubs are actually built to contend not only this year, but for many years to come.

Theo Epstein, President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs, has made all the right moves after leaving the Red Sox for Chicago in 2011. Despite finishing in last place in the N.L. Central the past three years under Epstein, the Cubs have the top-ranked farm system in baseball.

Led by Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Jorge Soler, the Cubs have at least one hitting prospect at every position on the diamond. If things go the way Epstein has planned, the Cubs farm system won’t be as highly glorified as they are now because Soler will be in the majors and Bryant should be up shortly after. Russell is close behind as well. And while second basemen Javier Baez and outfielder Arismendy Alcantara are no longer considered prospects, they are young guys in the Cubs’ system.

Before the offseason, the Cubs had 40-1 odds to win the World Series but after signing left handed ace Jon Lester to a six-year, $155 million deal and adding Joe Maddon as the new manager, their odds increased to 12-1.

The pitching staff beyond Lester is also impressive. Kyle Hendricks led the team with a 2.46 ERA posting a 7-2 record over 13 starts. Jake Arrieta struck out 167 in only 156.2 innings last season. Newly acquired Jason Hammel posted a 2.98 ERA and despite struggling last season, Travis Wood is still a former all-star. The five starters look nothing but strong on paper.

The two cornerstones of the franchise, shortstop Starlin Castro and first basemen Anthony Rizzo, were the Cubs only All-star selections last season. Castro led the team with a .292 batting average and Rizzo was second in the National League with 32 homeruns.

"It's going to happen this year," Rizzo said. "It's what we're going to do. We're going to play and we're going to win the NL Central, you can quote me on that. We should be the team, with all due respect to every other team; we're going to do some things this year. That's what we're going to put our sights on and we're not going to accept anything else.”

A World Series win might not happen this year, but the Cubs fans have to be satisfied in the direction this team is going. In the end, all that matters is who makes the postseason. The Kansas City Royals were able to win the pennant last year in the wild card spot. If the Cubs can clinch a wild card spot, anything can happen.

The lineup is stacked from top to bottom and the starting rotation is solid. Epstein has made all of the right moves to this point and now it’s time to see if they can produce.

Senior pitcher Parker French has taken over the top spot in the pitching rotation after posting a 2.41 ERA last season.
Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

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
Texas baseball.”

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.”

Junior outfielder Lindsey Stephens was named one of the softball team’s three captains and hopes to help the team bounce back after a relatively down year.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ softball campaign came to an end last season at the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette in a 10-1 routing during Regionals.

This season, the Longhorns are looking to bounce back.

“Losing that game — it was heartbreaking,” junior outfielder Lindsey Stephens said. “It was actually hard for me to watch the [College] World Series and the Super Regionals after that because I wasn’t ready to finish the season.”

Because Texas lost four seniors last year and only has two seniors this year, leadership may be a challenge early on. However, Stephens said others on the team will not shy away from the challenge.

“The team as a whole—we all are great leaders at some point, and we also learn how to follow,” Stephens said. “So I think that’s what is really good about us.”

The three captains this year — outfielder Rachel Scott, second baseman Stephanie Ceo and Stephens — are juniors who went to the College World Series two years ago.

“We have some captains on the team, and I just think that we’re going to try to guide us all back to the World Series,” Stephens said.

Their experience and leadership will be key if the Longhorns want to return to Oklahoma City.

“I thought the team and the staff did a great job of being on the same page on who we would have wanted as captains,” head coach Connie Clark said. “Those are three young women that are ready to take on the reign.”

Clark said this year’s group is ready to get another shot at the Worlds Series. 

“I think this group is motivated to make to the top eight. We want to be at the Women’s College World Series, and that’s all we’re talking about,” Clark said. “It’s more realistic that we can talk about that this year.”

The players agree that this team feels more motivated.

“Our goal every year is to get back to the World Series and win the World Series,” Ceo said. “So, no matter what, it’s always going to be that motivation. We came up short in Regionals last year, and it’s just an extra push to get even further this year.”

After a dominant run in Omaha, Texas’ 10-inning loss to Vanderbilt on June 21 eliminated the Longhorns from the 2014 College World Series. Vanderbilt beat Virginia in the championships.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Last season, Texas came within one game of advancing to the College World Series final, and it hasn’t been easy to forget. 

“It took a little bit of time,” senior pitcher Parker French said. “It definitely stung and hurt.” 

In June, Vanderbilt, the eventual national champion, captured a 10th-inning walk-off infield single to end the Longhorns’ hope of a sixth national championship. But, as fall practice begins this season, Texas will look to start its season strong. 

“I don’t think there’s much of a hangover effect,” French said. “I think it’s more guys are just hungry. We all have a common goal, we know what that is. We got a little bit of taste of success last year, but we’re not done, and we want more, and I think that’s the biggest thing.” 

The Longhorns know they must work hard in order to repeat last season’s success. 

“The first day is exciting, but there is a lot of hard work to be done, so we’re ready to get after it,” senior outfielder Collin Shaw said. 

Last year’s team was built on a basis of solidarity, which helped the group make a deep run into the postseason. With the addition of 15 freshmen, however, the upperclassmen must show leadership and unify the team — a  process Texas is taking day-by-day. 

“I know what we’re going to do today, then we’re going to see how they respond to it, and then we’ll decide what we’re going to do tomorrow, and you just take it a day at a time,” head coach Augie Garrido said. 

Texas isn’t worried about added pressure or expectations this year. Instead, Garrido said the team is focused on the task at hand, with thoughts of last season’s bitter end still in their heads. 

“I’m not over [the World Series loss] yet,” Garrido said. “I don’t want to get over it. I want to be motivated by it. I’m excited to get us started.”

Although the season doesn’t start until February, Texas hopes to start eliminating its shortcomings now. Falling short last year may be the motivation the Longhorns need.

“Like anything — whether it’s a failure or a success — you can use that for the future,” French said. “You can learn from anything … so, we’ll use those experiences moving forward.” 

MLB playoff picture beginning to shape up as October approaches

The start of the MLB postseason is just one week away, and with five of the ten teams that will be making it out of the regular season already known, the playoff picture is almost complete.

 

The reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox won’t be making an appearance in this year’s postseason, but potentially five teams that chased the pinnacle of baseball success last season will be doing it again in 2014. And for some teams, playing baseball in October once again has been a long time coming.

 

American League

The Baltimore Orioles clinched the AL East crown and will be returning to the postseason for the first time since 1997. They have home-field advantage throughout the ALDS and a strong offense led by the MLB home run leader, Nelson Cruz (39), to help them chase their fourth World Series title.

 

The Los Angeles Angels also have home-field advantage when they start postseason play for the first time since 2009. They won the West division title and currently boast the best record in the majors. The Angels have been playing great baseball and could make a lengthy run in October with arguably the best player in baseball, Mike Trout, leading the way.

  

The Detroit Tigers currently sit atop the Central division, but just by one game. Breathing down their necks are the Kansas City Royals, who haven’t made the playoffs since they won the World Series in 1985.

 

Whoever ends up second in that division will most likely be playing the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are up one game on the Royals in the wild card standings and are looking for their third consecutive postseason appearance.

 

Playoff prediction:

AL Wild Card- OAK v. KC

ALDS- OAK/KC v. LAA

ALDS- BAL v. DET

 

National League

The Washington Nationals hold the NL East division title and are ready to make up for missing the postseason last year. Though they’re still trying to claim home-field advantage in the NLDS, they have been playing solid baseball in the month of September led by impressive outings from their pitching staff, particularly ace Stephen Strasburg.

 

The Los Angeles Dodgers will be coming out of the NL West for their second straight playoff appearance currently only two wins away from a division title. A great pitching staff featuring probable Cy Young and NL MVP Award winner Clayton Kershaw will be the backbone to a World Series run for the Dodgers.

 

The St. Louis Cardinals clinched a playoff berth out of the NL Central for the fourth consecutive year and are four wins away from capturing their division crown. The Cardinals will look to their pitching staff, topped by 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, to help them win their second World Series title in four years.

 

In the NL wild card race, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the San Francisco Giants sit five games up on the Milwaukee Brewers, who are seemingly out of postseason contention. The Pirates and the Giants, both with 85-71 records, look to finish the season well enough to face each other in a one-game playoff on Oct. 1.

 

Playoff predictions:

NL Wild Card- PITT v. SF

NLDS- PITT/SF v. WSH

NLDS- LAD v. STL

 

Texas baseball head coach Augie Garrido, the NCAA's all time winningest coach, received a two-year contract extension last Tuesday, keeping him with the Longhorns through the 2017 season. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns head baseball coach Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in NCAA history, will be staying in Austin at least a little while longer.

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson announced July 1that Garrido has received a two-year contract extension that will keep him under contract through the 2017 season.

“We’re pleased with the great postseason run the team had this year,” Patterson said. “We’re excited to have Augie around for another three years to try and win more National Championships.”

Garrido has guided the Longhorns to 14 NCAA Tournaments, eight College World Series appearances and two National Championships since taking over the program prior to the 1997 season.

In 2014, Garrido led Texas to a 46-21 record as the Longhorns fell one win short of making the championship series, losing to Vanderbilt in the College World Series.

“We as coaches and our support staff are all excited to have the opportunity to continue to help develop the baseball and life skills of the current players and incoming recruits at the University of Texas,” Garrido said.

 

Parker French to return for 2015 season

After weighing his options, Texas pitcher Parker French has decided to return for his senior season with the Longhorns. 

French, a Dripping Springs native, served as the team’s Friday starter during the 2014 season, posting a 7-5 record with a 2.41 ERA. French declined  his professional contract after he was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of the MLB Draft.

“I would like to thank the Detroit Tigers for the opportunity to play professional baseball,” French tweeted. “But I have some unfinished business left in Austin.”

French was a major contributing factor for the Longhorns on their trip to the College World Series. He helped Texas defeat the Houston Cougars in the Super Regionals, tossing a six-inning shutout. French also led Texas to a win against Louisville in this year’s College World Series.

“Now it’s time to focus on Omaha 2015,” French said.

 

Tres Barrera wins College Home Run Derby

Texas freshman catcher Tres Barrera won the 2014 College Home Run Derby championship Thursday, hitting a total of 41 homers over the course of the three round contest at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

Barrera had his father pitch to him in the event and the family duo teamed up to produce 25 home runs in the final round to earn the win.

 “I just got in a groove and went from there,” Barrera said. “My dad was throwing strikes right where I liked them and I took good hacks.”

Barrera’s 25 homers kept him well clear of his high school teammate and fellow Mission, Texas native, Eric Gutierrez of Texas Tech, who finished second in the derby, with 18 home runs in the final round.