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Longhorns hoping to build consistency in return to Big 12 action

Posted: March 26, 2014 - 10:48pm  |  Updated: March 27, 2014 - 12:21am
Parker French (24)
Parker French (24)
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Texas baseball head coach Augie Garrido isn’t even certain his players know that the Longhorns have lost 12 straight Big 12 Conference series dating back to 2012.

“I know I do,” the veteran coach said.

If the players do know, they certainly haven’t played like it lately as the 12th-ranked Longhorns prepare to try to break that streak this weekend in Lubbock against No. 24 Texas Tech.

UT (20-6, 1-2 in Big 12) trails only Tech (21-7, 3-3) for most victories among conference teams this year, and appears, for the most part, to have shaken off the woes from last season, which saw them finish last in the Big 12 and miss out on the postseason for the second straight season, something almost unheard of in Austin.

But there’s still that one little hump to get over. The Longhorns ended the 2012 season with three straight series losses, dropped every single series in 2013 and the opening series of 2014 two weeks ago at home to Kansas.

Since then, Texas has won five straight games, including Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Texas State that made Garrido the all-time winningest coach in NCAA college baseball history, at any level, with 1,894 victories.

“I think in the last five games we’ve played pretty damn well,” Garrido said. “I think what has happened with this team is that ... we faced some adversity when we lost the first two games of the year and got better the next two as a result of it because of the way we responded to the losing. They responded to it that way after the Kansas series as well and are learning to deal with adversity the right way.”

The right way is playing baseball the Garrido way, which emphasizes pitching and defense and generating offense however the game dictates.

The Longhorns certainly have the pitching and defense part down. Texas enters the weekend leading the Big 12 in team ERA (1.88) and is tied with Tech in fielding percentage (.980).

Each one of the Longhorns three weekend starters have ERAs under 2.00 — Friday left-hander Dillon Peters (3-1, 1.79), Saturday right-hander Parker French (3-2, 2.62) and Sunday right-hander Nathan Thornhill (4-0, 1.01), all of whom returned from last season.

Right-hander John Curtis has four saves in nine appearances and has yet to allow an earned run after sitting out all of last season due to elbow surgery. Newcomer Lukas Schiraldi, a right-hander and son of former UT great Calvin Schiraldi, has been solid in the midweek, and sophomores Travis Duke and Ty Culbreth and freshman Morgan Cooper have been solid in relief

The scary part for opposing teams might be the fact that Garrido thinks the staff as a whole can be even better.

“I don’t think they’ve hit their full stride yet,” Garrido said. “I think that they’re moving toward pitching with more consistency. Remember the three (starters) are pitching for a team that lost 21 one-run games last year, so there’s still a little bit of that lingering. But I think these pitchers recognize that they have a lot more dependable support both defensively and offensively.
And it’s that offense that will be the key to how far back the Longhorns can climb after last season.

Since reaching the NCAA Super Regionals in 2012, the Longhorns team batting average has dipped each year, from .263 to .259 last season, and this year at .256 coming into the weekend. UT averaged 4.81 runs per game in 2012, dipped to 3.84 in 2013 and is back up to 4.31 this season.

“Obviously, it depends on the opposing pitching, but we seem to be getting there,” Garrido said. “I think we have a game that we can play at a consistent level. It isn’t everything we can do on offense, but we can play to a high level pretty consistently.”

Leading that charge is senior outfielder Mark Payton, who is second in the Big 12 in average at .420 and ranks in the league’s top 10 in runs (37), triples (5), walks (21), total bases (54), on-base percentage (.532) and slugging percentage (.614).

Other than outfielders Collin Shaw and Ben Johnson, however, no UT player is hitting above .280, and Jacob Felts (.244 avg.) is the only other senior in the lineup besides Payton.

But while the numbers might look somewhat similar to last year, there is one factor that makes this year different, in Garrido’s view.

“I think there’s a one-word answer — attitude,” Garrido said. “Our attitude is better about playing the game responsibly. And teamwork. We have a much different team, from each starting player and the role players are playing their part whether it’s in the dugout or on the field. And they’re doing it with more consistency.”

george.watson@lubbockonline.com

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College baseball

What: No. 12 Texas at No. 24 Texas Tech

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Rip Griffin Park, Lubbock

Records: Texas 20-6, 1-2 in Big 12; Texas Tech 21-7, 3-3

Radio: KTTU 104.3 FM (Lubbock)

Twitter: @AJJorge

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