For Texas, a quest to return to the College World Series will begin on Friday night. The Longhorns will open play against #4 seed Texas Southern at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. #2 seed Indiana and #3 seed Texas A&M will kick off the Austin Regional in the first game of the day at 4 PM CST.
To advance to a Super Regional, Texas will have to deal with 3 teams who each present some different challenges. Here are some things you need to know about the other 3 teams in the Austin Regional.
The Hoosiers return to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year after going 1-2 in the Lexington Regional a season ago. Indiana finished in 5th place in the Big Ten with a record of 14-9, but boast an RPI of 29 and only dropped 2 conference series the entire season to Minnesota and Ohio State, who both made the NCAA Tournament as well.
- Indiana ranked #1 in the Big Ten in team ERA (2.95) and are lead by 3 starters who all have ERA’s under 3.00.
- Junior right-hander Jonathan Stiever (5-5, 2.89 ERA, 96 SO) is the ace of the staff. Stiever should be an early pick in the upcoming MLB Draft and has a fastball that sits in the Mid-90’s. 6’3 junior Pauly Milto (7-2, 2.29 ERA, 56 SO) serves as the #2 starter and received second-team All-Big Ten honors this past season. 6’5 junior left-hander Tim Herrin (5-0, 3.32 ERA) rounds out a very strong weekend rotation.
- In the bullpen, Indiana’s best option will be Matt Lloyd, who plays both ways but has a team leading 6 saves and a .83 ERA in 21 ⅔ innings. He is also hitting .275 with 8 home runs and 38 RBI’s.
- At the plate, Indiana ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in hitting, but led the conference in Home Runs with 63.
- The Hoosiers have 3 hitters batting over .300, led by OF Matt Gorski, who hit .363 with 8 home runs and 39 RBI’s.
Despite a 5th place finish in the Big 10, Indiana is a team well-deserving of a #2 seed. The Hoosiers have an impressive pitching staff, giving head coach Chris Lemonis options in terms of who he wants to start the opening game. The Hoosiers will go as far as their 3 starters take them, but I will be looking forward to seeing Lloyd play both ways and how Indiana’s hitting will translate against better pitching.
Texas A&M (39-20)
After dropping a 6-5 decision in College Station earlier this season, the Longhorns will welcome the Aggies to Austin as the #3 seed. After a strong start to the season, A&M faded during SEC play (13-17) but won 3 games during the conference tournament to ensure a return trip to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th consecutive season.
- Similar to Indiana, A&M is led by a pitching staff that led the SEC in ERA (3.23)
- RHP Mitchell Kilkenny (8-4, 3.00 ERA, 87 SO) and LHP John Doxakis (7-5, 2.89, 80 SO) have been the two best starters for A&M this season. It has already been reported the Aggies plan on starting Doxakis in the regional opener against Indiana. Kilkenny spent most of 2017 in the bullpen, but his results as a starter in 2018 have been impressive.
- Stephen Kolek spent the latter half of the season as the #3 starter after beginning the year as the Friday night starter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if head coach Rob Childress opts to start left-handers Asa Lacy or Kaylor Chafin at some point during the regional. Lacy and Kaylor both had very strong in performances in the SEC Tournament, while Kolek didn’t appear in any of the 4 games. Texas scored 2 runs off of Kolek when he threw 1 ⅓ innings of relief against the Longhorns back in April.
- Nolan Hoffman serves as the A&M closer and has been dominant for most of the season. Hoffman has recorded 14 saves and struck out 51 batters in 51 innings. The junior threw 1 ⅔ innings of scoreless relief to earn a save against Texas in April.
- A&M ranked near the middle in the SEC in terms of hitting, but has several guys who can do a lot of damage at the plate.
- 2B Michael Helman leads the team with a .366 average and has a .453 OBP. Helman has hit 6 home runs and driven in 34 runs.
- SS Braden Shewmake is only a sophomore, but has started from the moment he stepped on campus as a freshman. The left-handed hitter hit .329 in 2018 with 5 home runs and 44 RBI’s. His glove in the field is outstanding and he will almost certainly hear his named called early on during the 2019 MLB draft.
It was not a total surprise to see A&M struggle during conference play after going 23-2 in non-conference play. The Aggies played a non-conference strength of schedule that ranked 136th in the country, the SEC was absolutely loaded and the Aggies put themselves behind the eight-ball by losing their first 3 series of conference play. Doxakis and Kilkenny are two very good arms, but the depth A&M has on the mound would probably give them the slight edge for the strongest pitching staff in the Austin Regional. It will be interesting to see if the A&M offense can produce enough to win what could be a lot of low-scoring games.
Texas Southern (27-26)
The SWAC Champions will hope for a better result against Texas than when the Longhorns defeated the Tigers, 10-2, in a midweek game in Sugar Land in Mid-April. Despite winning their conference for the second consecutive season, the Tigers enter the tournament with a RPI of 215.
- The one consistent starter Texas Southern has had this season is junior right-hander Aaron Solis (10-3, 3.44 ERA, 63 SO). Solis started the opening game of the conference tournament for the Tigers, before coming back on 3 days rest to start the championship game.
- In the bullpen, Texas Southern has a very good closer in Chris Suarez, who has a team leading 5 saves and 2.75 ERA in 39 ⅓ innings.
- Texas Southern led the SWAC in hitting with a .306 team average
- OF Kamren Dukes is hitting a ridiculous .396 with 3 home runs and 42 RBI’s. Dukes went 3 for 4 against Texas when the two teams met earlier this season.
- 1B Christian Sanchez has a team leading 17 home runs and is hitting .343.
- The Tigers ranked 6th in the country in stolen bases with 114. Dukes has stolen 30 bags and 2B Gaudencio Lucca has swiped 25.
- The Tigers are 0-12 against teams with an RPI inside the top 100
The last bullet point may the most telling. Whenever the Tigers have played anyone respectable this season, they haven’t performed well. With that being said, the Longhorns better come ready to play because Texas Southern has given scares to several quality teams this year, including Baylor, who the Tigers led 3-1 after 6 innings in a midweek game before the Bears came from behind for a 5-4 victory. The interesting thing to see will be when they choose to throw Solis, who gives them their best shot at a win. It’s hard to envision Texas Southern going anything other than 0-2, but weird things can happen in a regional.