Longhorns playing ‘underdog' card
"I think the way Houston played their way into this it makes them the favorite," he said.
That's not so much the case with Cougars head coach Todd Whitting.
"I think some of the experts will tilt it towards them a little bit, but the past never equals the future in tis game," Whitting said. "Who knows what's going to happen this weekend?"
Texas has actually played better on the road (12-6) or in neutral game sites (8-3) than at home this season (21-10). But, to a man, the Longhorns will tell you they are happy to be back at home. That's despite the vastness of this park, which makes it one of the toughest to play in around the country.
"We are not going to try and change anything," second baseman Brooks Marlow said. "We know it is a bigger field and it doesn't carry as far, but we're going to take the same hitting plans and put it into Disch-Falk."
One of those plans is the sacrifice bunt, which UT executes better than anyone else in the country. The Longhorns have put down 94 sac bunts this season, which leads the nation, and you can expect a heavy dose of those this weekend due to the way this park plays.
"It's two things, you can either let it bring you down, or you can learn from it," Marlow said in reference to the vastness of Disch-Falk. "That is what a lot of these hitters are doing, just learning from it. Everybody on this team knows that this field doesn't go your way. You have just got to stay with it and not let it bring you down."
Garrido knows this turf better than anyone and tries to use that to his advantage. Whitting knows that and knows what to expect having played here before.
"I know Coach Garrido likes for his turf to play slow," he said. "It's a slower turf than we have. I haven't been out there yet today, but I think around the bases it's a little higher cut than on the actual green part of the infield, so it's built for pitching and defense.
Seniors happy to be back at friendly confines
Texas' last scheduled home game that never came to be due to rain against Texas State on May 13 could have very well been the last time Mark Payton, Nathan Thornhill and the rest of Texas' seniors geared up for a game a UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
When the Longhorns found out they wouldn't be hosting a regional the odds of them hosting a super regional became slim-to-none. But everything worked out in their favor, and now, here they are at home, in Austin, two wins away from a trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
Texas' coach Augie Garrido is surprised that Texas' is hosting a super regional given the odds stacked against them entering the Houston Regional last week. He was very matter-of-fact when asked if he was surprised UT was hosting this weekend.
"Yes," he said. "Because it didn't appear like we were going to."
This is what Payton and Thornhill were hoping for whenever they chose to return for their senior seasons instead of going pro. Now it's time to take advantage of what waits in front of them.
"It is going to be awesome," Payton said. "For me and Nate [who got to experience it] our freshman year, we kind of talked about it throughout the summer when we were deciding what our decision was going to be, and we thought about how cool the Super Regional atmosphere was around this place our freshman year. So, now that we're back here it is really cool. I bet it is one of the coolest atmospheres around this time of year out of anywhere in the country. We are excited to be back and playing at our home field."
While the Super Regional is one goal checked off the team's ‘To Do' list, it's not the end goal in mind, Thornhill said.
"It's definitely a step that we wanted to take," he said. "Getting through a Regional and into a Super Regional is one of our goals as a team. As a senior, to go from where we were to here now [is great], but we're definitely not done yet, we want to keep going. It's never the end goal for Texas to be in a Super Regional, the end goal is to go to Omaha and win in Omaha. So, we need to take care of business and focus on tomorrow."
Houston not afraid
The Cougars have lived out of their suitcases for most of the past couple of months. While they'd much rather be playing at home this weekend, they're completely comfortable starting their days from a hotel room this weekend with the chance at going to a College World Series.
"Well, I'd like to say that I think it's going to help us," Whitting said about playing on the road again. "We've literally had enough time in the last four weekends to go home and wash our laundry then jump back on a bus. The past never equals the future. We'll see if it was good for us to be on the road that long. I definitely think it can't hurt. Part of our routine right now is being packed up, being on the road and staying in hotels, and they don't play Omaha at home, so hopefully it's good for us."
Houston has played 14 of its last 15 games on the road (12-3 record), including absolutely obliterating LSU in Baton Rouge last weekend.
"We are really excited to still be playing, that's for sure," Houston senior catcher Caleb Barker said. "Having to beat LSU twice, I don't think people really gave us a chance – especially in Alex Box Stadium. We won on Sunday night in extra innings and then came back on Monday and were able to beat them again.
"We are just along for the ride right now. We are enjoying playing in the postseason. We wanted to play at home, obviously, but when we didn't get that, we thought we would get to host a regional, and then that didn't happen. You can't really get down on yourself in postseason baseball, so we are just really excited to still be playing, and we are excited to be in Austin."
Longhorns center fielder Mark Payton will look to extend his Big 12 record 99 consecutive games reaching base this weekend. He is batting .318 with a .460 on-base percentage and a team-high 53 walks this season.
The Cougars are tied for the school-record with 48 wins this season, tying marks set back in 2000 and 2002. In each of those seasons, though, Houston's season came to an end in the super regionals, falling to San Jose State in 2000 and to Texas in 2002.
Runs might be hard to come by this weekend as two of the nation's top pitching staffs will go head-to-head in Austin. Houston's staff has the nation's sixth-lowest team ERA at 2.30 while Texas' 2.36 team ERA is 8th-lowest.