After a two-year hiatus from national relevance, Texas baseball has burst back onto the scene thanks to head coach Augie Garrido’s age-old formula of defense and small ball.
The Longhorns currently sit at 22-7 and eighth in the Baseball America poll, a huge step forward for a team that finished 27-24-1 last season, its worst in 15 years. Texas’ success this season resembles when the Longhorns were perennial contenders in the College World Series in the early 2000s.
Those Texas teams were headlined by strong pitching staffs who put strangle holds on opposing hitters, which allowed Garrido to implement a conservative offensive strategy using sacrifice bunts and timely hitting. Although this tactic was in place the past two seasons, Texas lacked the dominant pitching staff necessary for it to work effectively.
This season has been a different story. Led by starters senior Nathan Thornhill and junior Parker French, the Longhorns enter April as the No. 4 pitching staff in the nation, limiting opponents to less than two runs per game. This strength powered the team to a 4-1 record against Rice and Houston, both currently ranked in the top 25.
Across the board, Texas’ defense has been phenomenal. Along with its 1.98 ERA, the Longhorns rank ninth in fielding percentage, 14th in hits allowed and have shut out opponents on five occasions — an impressive feat considering last year’s team had eight all season.
The Longhorns have already almost equaled last season’s win total despite ranking 142nd in team batting average and 187th in runs scored per game.
Of course, there are a few bright spots in the Texas lineup. The obvious example here is senior outfielder Mark Payton, who has maintained a red-hot .402 batting average while leading the team in hits, RBIs and on-base percentage. Junior outfielder and Austin-native Collin Shaw has emerged as another solid offensive threat for the Longhorns, compiling a .313 batting average and a team-high seven stolen bases.
If Texas can continue to make use of this pitching staff and progressive offensive, it can begin recreating the winning culture the program has lacked in recent years.