Eight months after making a run to the College World Series, Texas baseball returns locked and loaded ready to make another run in 2019. Led by a melting pot of the some of the Big 12’s top talent, young and old, the Longhorns look to start the year in spectacular fashion.
Texas baseball’s long-awaited return is finally upon us as the Longhorns travel to Lafayette, La. to take on the University of Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns on their home turf. The Longhorns, who started off 2018 by taking two out of three games against the Ragin’ Cajuns in Austin, are looking to to duplicate that success across state lines.
Former Friday night ace Nolan Kingham, who set the tone for the series by putting on an electric opening night performance, is gone, however. In his place is sophomore reliever-turned-starter, sophomore Bryce Elder, who has the intangibles to be every bit as dominant as Kingham.
“Elder’s earned that right to be Friday night starter,” head coach David Pierce said. “I thought you could see that in spurts in him last year. He’s got this cerebral approach. I just think he knows what he’s doing, knows what he wants to do and knows who he is.”
The soft-spoken Elder, who hails from Decatur, Texas is known for his calm nature and even temper on the mound. He’s a player that never gets too high or too low and uses that to his advantage.
“I’ve always been a guy that if I do something really well, we’ve got to go to the next inning, rather than get all excited from that and not being able to finish,” Elder said. “So I just try to stay even-keel and get the next batter and go to the next inning.”
The weekend rotation, which Pierce has already set, features Elder along with 2018’s Sunday starter, junior Blair Henley, and true freshman Coy Cobb. Cobb, who will make his debut Sunday, is in a position not many true freshman pitchers have found themselves in recently at the University of Texas.
“When we recruited Coy, we felt like then, and now he’s validated that he would have an opportunity to be a weekend starter,” Pierce said. “He’s done a great job. He’s pitching three pitches for strikes. He’s got velocity and he’s got command. So all we expect him to do is go out and repeat what he’s been doing.”
Offensively, Texas features many familiar names. With an outfield that sports veterans in juniors Duke Ellis and Austin Todd, and an infield that highlights junior Ryan Reynolds and senior Masen Hibbeler, there hasn’t been too much of a shake-up in the field or in the lineup.
A new face, and another true freshman that will make his debut this weekend is outfielder Eric Kennedy. Kennedy, who will take former outfielder and current utility man Tate Shaw’s place in the outfield, looks like an potential five-tool player primed for a breakout season. The younger brother of former Texas baseball player, Nick Kennedy, Eric has already made his presence felt in the short time he’s been on the 40 Acres.
“Eric was very unassuming early in the fall,” Pierce said. “But he just kept putting his nose down and playing well. He’s a little unorthodox in swing, a little unorthodox in his arm, but if you really pay attention to the absolutes of hitting and throwing, he does things right. He’s very electric and very explosive on the bases. He’s not afraid to run and he’s not afraid to get thrown out.
One position that still hasn’t found its answer, though, is first base. With a number of potential options to take the field, it’s a bit unclear who will get the nod Friday night. One of the candidates, and a middle-of-the-order staple, redshirt sophomore Zach Zubia has made strides to possibly take over the other hot corner.
“I’ve just really worked on becoming more athletic as a whole,” Zubia said. “I think that becoming more athletic allows me to become more versatile on the field and on the bases, especially. Becoming faster, stronger, quicker all help me become more versatile wherever I need to be. And that’s going to be important going into the season because we’re going to have a lot of combos going around the whole year.”
If one thing is clear, however, it’s that excitement for baseball is definitely in the air. Whether this team makes it to Omaha again is months of speculation away, but this group is definitely one to be on the lookout for.
“What excites me is I think (this team) has a passion for the university, they have a passion for this program, and I credit the older guys for creating that,” Pierce said. “And they really like to play baseball and they like each other. That’s fun.”
Texas will open its season at Cajun Field in Lafayette, La. on Friday, Feb. 15th. First pitch is set for 6:30 P.M.
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