Following a 1-2 series against LSU and a midweek win over UTSA, Texas Baseball is set to host back to back series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, beginning with a 4 game set against Northwestern this weekend.
The Longhorns returned home late Sunday night after a wild series in Baton Rouge. Head Coach David Pierce reflected on the series against the Tigers, and said he felt like his team learned a lot about themselves and what type of team they are.
“Honestly, I think what we really learned is we are a better offense than most people think, and we are not as good defensively and pitching as most people give us credit for,” Pierce said. “I think we get a little nullified in all 3 categories when we are (at home). I think we are solid, but the experience of having to play in that environment and see how some young guys and some new guys adjust to just the true atmosphere of playing on the road against a quality SEC team that played in Omaha last year, was a good test for us. And not only good test, but it gave us the ability to go out and kind of figure out who we are. Once our guys kind of caught their breathes and relaxed and played, you could really see a difference in just their approach and their confidence building.”
Designated hitter Zach Zubia had a big series at Alex Box Stadium, hitting two home runs Saturday night and coming through with a 3 run double on Sunday. The redshirt freshman has established himself as the main power threat in the Texas lineup.
“The obvious is that he is big and strong, but the best part about it is he is really not long. He doesn’t have a lot of length in his swing,” Pierce said about Zubia. “If he can be disciplined, he can be a force. First of all, he is a huge presence. It’s going to give Kody more opportunities, it’s going to give DJ (Petrinsky) behind him better pitches to hit. But the biggest thing for Zach is people have to understand he is a redshirt freshman, and he is facing some of the best arms in the country, and he will face some of the best arms in the country. It is about his discipline and recognizing pitches, and that will come with at-bats. You can see our sophomores who were freshman a year ago, and you look at Ryan (Reynolds) and you look at David (Hamilton), and their confidence has already changed a little bit. Zach is going to through some growing pains, but at the same time he can a dominating force like we’ve all seen already.”
Originally a Tulane commit out of high school, Zubia said his trust and confidence in Pierce and his staff made the the decision to come to Texas an easy one.
“Whenever I was getting recruited by Coach Pierce, I always felt at home, and my parents always trusted him,” Zubia said. “That’s the biggest thing to me, to have trust in your coach and trust in your coaching staff. Anything they say, I take with full heart and empty mine. They’ve moved up the chain of command from Sam Houston to here, and they’ve done everything well so far. It was amazing to come watch them coach at Tulane and then come watch them have success here. I’m just hoping to continue help them have success wherever they go.”
Against UTSA this past Tuesday, freshman Nico O’Donnell received his first win of his career, allowing one hit in 5 ⅓ scoreless innings. One of the keys to limiting the Roadrunners was the effectiveness of his breaking pitches, something that was lacking in his first in his first start against Lamar.
“Really when you go back and look at the film, his slider was really, really good,” Pierce said. “His fastball was a little erratic, but it was never in the middle of the zone. If it was up, it was up and in a little, and he threw it down and away. He was pretty effectively wild with his fastball, but his curveball when he utilized it was really good, and his slider was outstanding.”
Following O’Donnell’s exit from the game, Bryce Verplank recorded 2 outs before handing the ball over to Beau Ridgeway. After throwing a scoreless inning in the season opener, Ridgeway had gone 3 straight appearances allowing a run. He bounced back by throwing 2 scoreless innings on Tuesday.
“Beau was one of our go-to guys last year, and I still have a lot of confidence in him, but he hasn’t had success early on, so that’s the reason why we brought him out in the 7th,” Pierce said. “He’s got to get some confidence and really start attacking the zone again. I think more than anything his glove-side fastball is up and that’s a key for him. If he can really get the ball down when he is going away, his sinker is still good when he is coming in, and he’s going to have to throw his secondary pitches enough for strikes to be effective.”
Nolan Kingham recorded his first save of the season by coming out of the bullpen in the 9th. The Friday night starter had a rough outing in Baton Rouge, but responded by working around a leadoff walk and closing out the Longhorn’s 2-0 victory.
“It’s a 2-0 ballgame and we are trying to win the game,” Pierce said. “I’ve always said if you got your best option in the bullpen or available, I think we ought to go to it. I think he was our best option last night. He was ready and a lot of times our Friday guy will throw his bullpen Tuesday night as opposed to during batting practice on Tuesday, and so he was going to throw his bullpen anyway. With the way the game was, I felt like he was our best option with their (UTSA’s) 2-3-4 coming up. I didn’t want to leave any doubt, so that’s what we did, we went to him.”
Pierce said Kingham’s relief appearance will likely result in Chase Shugart receiving the start in the series opener against Northwestern on Friday, with Kingham and Blair Henley as the probable pitchers for Saturday’s doubleheader. Sunday’s starter is TBA. Sunday could end up being a heavy day for the Texas bullpen, which is still missing a couple of potential contributors in Kamron Fields and Tristan Stevens, both of whom are dealing with injuries.
“One thing that has been a little overlooked, and I don’t use this as an excuse because it’s about opportunity for other guys, but Donny Diaz came in here as a guy who is going to be in the back end of the bullpen,” Pierce said. “Tristan Stevens is guy who has a big arm from Missouri, and then Kam Fields goes down, you got Cole Quintanilla. 3 of those 4 came in injured and we hoped to get 2 of them back in Fields and Stevens, and hopefully by the 1st of April. Kam is coming, he is getting close and ready to play outfield, but he is not ready to go to the mound yet. Tristan’s rehab is going really well. It would be awesome to get a shot in the arm from those 2 guys late, but other guys have to step up right now and that opportunity is there for them.”
The 4 game series against Northwestern will begin on Friday at 7 PM. Saturday’s doubleheader will begin at 1 PM and the series will conclude on Sunday with another 1 PM start time. Follow along here at HornSports and on twitter (@hornsports) for live updates.