Following a series sweep against Kansas and a 3-2 victory over Sam Houston State on Tuesday night, the Longhorns are riding a 4-game winning streak into a the second conference series of the year, a 3 game set against Oklahoma State.
After losing 5 straight to Stanford and Arkansas, the Longhorn’s responded with solid pitching and timely hitting against the Jayhawks and Bearkats. The weekend rotation of Nolan Kingham, Blair Henley and Chase Shugart all rebounded from tough outings against Stanford the weekend prior. Henley said one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround was the pitching staff’s ability to throw strikes. The Longhorn only allowed 6 walks in the 3 game series against Kansas, compared to 24 walks in the 4 game series against Stanford.
“Just keep doing what we are doing,” Henley said when asked about the key for the team moving forward. “Play solid defense and timely hitting. If we throw as many strike as we did last weekend, I don’t think anyone can beat us. Just kind of mixing it around the plate, that was the big thing for our starters and our bullpen was solid. I think that’s something we have to do everyday to be successful.”
With shortstop David Hamilton continuing to nurse a thumb, junior Masen Hibbeler moved from LF to fill the void at SS, while also moving up from the 2 hole into the leadoff spot. On the season, Hibbeler is hitting .333 with 1 homer and 12 RBI’s. The Odessa Junior College transfer said he feels like the team is beginning to come together.
“It feels like right now we are on a little bit of a roll and we’d just like to take that into next weekend,” Hibbeler said. “I feel like we are starting to come together and we are almost halfway through the season now, and just keep using that and keep playing the way we do.”
A season ago, the Longhorns opened conference play by being swept at home by Texas Tech. This season, Texas find themselves in a much better spot after opening conference with a sweep.
“Honestly, it does feel good to not be playing catch-up early on starting conference play,” Head coach David Pierce said. “It gives you some confidence as a player knowing that you have an opportunity to compete for the (conference) championship. I don’t know where we stand on that. My biggest deal is I want to see us really be aggressive in the strike zone and play great defense, and I really think we are going to hit enough. I think we got some presence in the box and then we have some other guy who have the ability to maneuver the short game and do some things to advance runners. So I like where we are. Our strength of schedule is #7 in the country right now, so that’s a huge thing. Our kids are very confident playing quality teams and I think we are more mature. You just look at the last couple games we held onto a 1 run lead and we get a 1 run victory. It’s just no panic and you are starting to see that more and more. I think that comes from having more guys in our lineup that have been in those environments, so it’s very beneficial.”
Texas will attempt to stay atop of the Big 12 standings this weekend when they welcome Oklahoma State to Austin. The Cowboys will enter with a 10-8-1 record, and are led by Collin Simpson (.347 AVG, 5 HR and 19 RBI’s) and Carson Teel (3-0, 1.05 ERA). Pierce said he plans on sticking with the same rotation schedule as last weeked, with Nolan Kingham taking the ball Friday, Blair Henley starting Saturday and Sunday’s starter to be announced. Chase Shugart started last Sunday, but Pierce said he wants to continue to have the flexibility of possibly using the right-hander in relief early in the series.
“I just think the kid wants to win, and if that’s what it takes to help the team win Friday night or Saturday, that’s what we are willing to do,” Pierce said about Shugart. “If we have an opportunity to win that day in this conference, I don’t we are going to look at tomorrow, we are going to try to get it done that day. It doesn’t always work out for you, but that is the intent and plan.”
The Longhorns and Cowboys will start the three game series on Friday, with first pitch scheduled for 7:00 PM. Saturday’s game is schedule for 2:30 PM, with the series finale set for 1:30 on Sunday. Follow along at Hornsports.com for live updates.
Two Additional Notes
Pierce said SS David Hamilton is very close to returning from a thumb injury. The sophomore was used as a late inning pinch runner/defensive replacement on Tuesday, and could find himself back in the the lineup as early as Friday.
RHP Tristan Stevens continues his recovery from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander threw live to hitters on Tuesday, throwing all 3 of his pitches. Pierce said the Missouri native will likely need a couple more live throwing sessions before he is ready to pitch in a game.