The Longhorns have a 15-5 record and boast a No. 5 national ranking, good enough to make them the highest-ranked Big 12 team. They’ve won 10 of their last 12, are coming off a conference-opening sweep of Kansas State and leave tomorrow for a weekend series in Stillwater, Okla., against conference foe Oklahoma State. Texas has already put an impressive collection of skins on the wall, with wins over No. 12 Stanford, Texas State and Hawaii.
On the other hand, tonight’s opponent, Houston Baptist, is 1-16. The Huskies didn’t win their first game until March 12, after starting the season on a 14-game losing streak. The Huskies have a collective 6.80 era and hit .217 as a team, and have lost to the likes of Prairie View A&M, Bryant and McNeese State.
It looks, sounds and smells like a trap game.
Houston Baptist has a barren win column, don’t expect Texas to take it easy tonight.
“We don’t focus on the record at all,” said senior Paul Montalbano. “You could look at them and say ‘Oh, they’re 1-16,’ but they could always come out here and play the best game of their lives and beat us.”
Montalbano has seen it happen more than once this year. In February, Texas A&M Corpus Christi stormed into Austin and beat the Longhorns 8-7. A few weeks later, they needed extra innings to top UTSA. Texas also lost to Brown by four runs.
The fact that the Longhorns can lose to teams that, on paper, they should crush has nothing to do with talent but everything to do with mindset. Junior shortstop Brandon Loy said as much after the loss to Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
“It’s not that we overlooked them, it’s just not a big game and that killed us,” he said. “Everybody tries to tell us it’s not a big game, but we can’t look at it like that. These teams come here to beat us.”
Houston Baptist has proven itself capable of beating good teams, but it’s happened just once. In fact, the Huskies’ lone win this year came against No. 14 TCU and its premier pitcher Matt Purke in Fort Worth — the first loss of Purke’s collegiate career.
Sam Stafford (2-0, 2.01 era) will start on the mound tonight for Texas, very much aware of the fate Purke met against the Huskies.
“I remember seeing that TCU lost to Houston Baptist,” the junior left-hander said. “That just goes to show you that on any given day, any team can be on top of their game. You can’t take anybody lightly.”
In three of the Longhorns’ five losses, they have allowed the other team to score runs first. The fact that their game against Houston Baptist is sandwiched between a great series win and a plane flight to another state tomorrow means that they’ll have to fend off a few distractions.
“On weekday games like this that come after a big series and before another one, we have to make sure we’re focused,” Stafford said. “They want to beat us. We have to come out and play our game and put some runs on the board early.”
Stafford, who is pitching against Houston Baptist’s Dalton Schafer (0-5, 5.97 era), knows a quick start out of the gate rests with him.
“I just need to execute my pitches, get ahead of the batters, throw strikes and let the defense work behind me. That’s my gameplan,” he said. “I’m not going to look at them any differently than I would another team. I’m focused on the things I can control.”