Thursday’s matchup between Texas and No. 6 TCU marks the start of conference play for the defending Big 12 tournament champions.
The reigning tournament champions though, are not the 13–3 Horned Frogs but the 9–12 Longhorns. An unexpected surge in last season’s conference tournament brought a Big 12 title to Austin and propelled Texas into the NCAA regionals.
A lot has changed since then.
“We’re not surging,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “We’re doing the same thing over and over and over again. It’s just a different name on who makes the error and who makes the mental error, which you don’t put on the scoreboard, and who doesn’t perform in a game against an opponent.”
The Longhorns will begin conference play on the heels of a series of spring break games that saw the team go 2–5.
Texas dipped four games below .500 before a win over UTSAon Tuesday.
“It’s been a tough ride so far, especially with this young group of guys,” junior infielder and catcher Tres Barrera said. “It’s my job as a leader to keep those guys positive.“
Despite the poor record and national title contender TCU coming to town, the team’s priorities have stayed simple.
“The biggest focus is finding the right competitive infield,” Garrido said. “One that will be consistent.”
Injuries early in the season to outfielders Tyler Rand and Patrick Mathis have hampered the Longhorns’ lineup. In addition, second baseman Joe Baker will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a stress fracture. The injuries have forced Garrido to get creative with his position players.
Tuesday’s matchup against UTSA saw Garrido put Barrera — the regular catcher and first baseman — at third and slide everyday center fielder Zane Gurwitz to second base.
The shuffled defensive lineup will have its hands full against the Horned Frog offense. TCU sports a .321 team batting average and averages a staggering 8.45 runs per game.
Five regular starters, including infielder Elliott Barzilli who is hitting at a team-high .447 clip, are batting above .300.
The Horned Frogs are among the national elite in almost every possible metric, but the Longhorns, who have already faced nationally ranked teams in then-No. 12 Cal, No. 19 UCLA and No. 3 Texas A&M, believe they are ready to take on more of the nation’s finest.
“Nobody’s playing competition like us now,” Barrera said. “I think it’s made us better. I know we’ve got a tough squad coming in here on Thursday, and I think we’re going to be ready to take it to ’em.”