HOW TEXAS BASEBALL TURNED THINGS AROUND

The all-time winningest coach in college baseball had tried everything else to jumpstart his suddenly .500 Longhorns with College World Series expectations after coming up just short of the CWS championship series a year ago.

So after the Longhorns lost a home series against Texas Tech on May 3 (falling to 24-24, 9-12 in Big 12 play) and had a game against Texas State on May 5 canceled due to weather, the five-time national championship coach basically told his players to get away from the game.

With finals coming up, Augie Garrido told his players to focus on their studies and take their minds off of baseball - with the exception of personal workouts - until the team gathered to go to Waco for the Baylor series May 16.

"We had to get rid of the demons. They had a choke-hold on us," Garrido said Monday, after his Big 12 Tournament champion Longhorns learned they'll be a No. 3 seed in the Dallas Regional (hosted by No. 1 seeded Dallas Baptist) and face No. 2 seeded Oregon State on Friday at 1:30 pm CT.

Players said that 13-day break from organized team activity allowed them to get away from expectations and refocus, leading to their four-game run through the Big 12 tourney in Tulsa for an automatic NCAA bid. Winning the conference tournament was the only way for Texas to extend its season. And the Longhorns got three complete-game pitching performances from Parker French, Ty Culbreth and Connor Mayes en route to the league tourney title after not having one complete game from a pitcher all season.

"It wasn't about fixing our swings or our arms. It was about fixing our minds," sophomore outfielder Zane Gurwitz said of the 13-day break Garrido gave them from organized team practices.

Gurwitz went on a hitting tear at the Big 12 tourney, going 8-of-13 with three runs scored and three RBIs, including what turned out to be a game-winning, 2-RBI single in the eighth inning Sunday vs Oklahoma State that broke a 2-2 tie en route to a 6-3 win. 

But things didn't come together for Gurwitz until Garrido sat him down in Game 1 of the Longhorns' final regular-season, Big 12 series at Baylor. 

GARRIDO TEACHES VALUABLE LESSON

In the bottom of the sixth inning, with Texas trailing 4-3, Gurwitz walked to pick up a ball in centerfield after a fielding error at second base, and Baylor DH Darryn Sheppard took advantage of a slow-moving Gurwitz to advance to third. The Bears then got a single that allowed Sheppard to score and take a 5-3 lead in the inning.

Garrido took Gurwitz out, moved Collin Shaw from right field to center field and inserted freshman Jake McKenzie into right field. And the 76-year-old head coach had a fiery warning for Gurwitz and the rest of the clubhouse if he caught them loafing. They'd be on the bench, watching, next to him.

Texas came back to win Game 1 of the Baylor series, 6-5. But Gurwitz sat for the second game of the series - a 7-1 Baylor win. 

Gurwitz returned to the starting lineup for Game 3 of the BU series, an 11-1 Texas win, and has been on a hitting spree ever since - going 11 of 17 (.647) with six runs scored and five RBIs.

"In Waco, that was a mental error," Gurwitz said of his walking to a ball in the outfield that allowed Sheppard to take third. "Mental errors are avoidable, and they shouldn't happen, no matter who you are. Coach said, 'If we have something like that happen again, you're out of the game.'

"I'm glad it happened when it did. I think it helped kick my butt into gear. That was uncharacteristic of me, and we had a lot of things that were uncharacteristic of us this season."

Added pitcher Parker French, "Zane has handled it as well as he could have and come back better than he's ever been."

PITCHING STAFF STABILIZES

From French's view, the turning point for the Longhorns was establishing freshman Connor Mayes and junior Ty Culbreth into the rotation after injuries hit pitchers Kacy Clemens (elbow) and Chad Hollingsworth (shoulder). Also the emergence of freshman Kyle Johnston in pressure situations.

"The performances of Connor, Ty and Kyle in Tulsa were huge, and that's an understatement," said French of complete-game victories by Mayes and Culbreth and six strong innings from Johnston vs Oklahoma State. "To have Connor and Kyle come through like that as freshmen, it was just fun to watch two guys who take a lot of pride go out and battle like that.

"They've been thrown into the fire and come out better players and better men."

French called the reorganization of the pitching roles on this year's team - because of the injuries to Clemens and Hollingsworth - "a puzzle."

"We knew we had the pieces," French said. "We just had to figure out how to put the pieces together."

SOURCE: GARRIDO'S FUTURE SECURE

Garrido, who has two years left on his contract with a current buyout of $600,000, said he's not had any conversations with athletic director Steve Patterson about his future.

"I don't think there's been any need for that," Garrido said Monday.

HornsDigest.com has reported, according to sources close to the situation, that Garrido will be back as coach next season.

As far as Texas' chances on Friday against Oregon State, a team that was in contention to host a regional, French said Garrido has a saying for a time like this in baseball, when everything seems to be coming together: "Jump on the magic carpet and ride it through the Enchanted Forest."

French called what the Longhorns did in Tulsa "magic." He added that teammates tried to help foster the magic.

He said sophomore pitcher Jon Malmin started the catch phrase "Let's eat!" and even bought a pot and spoon to bring into the dugout during the Big 12 Tournament. French said senior pitcher Ty Marlow "found a ladybug and gave it food, shelter and water and it flew away during the Oklahoma State game. And then we started scoring runs."

The real magic, according to Gurwitz, belonged to Garrido for never giving up on trying to unlock this year's team.

Gurwitz said Garrido did a masterful job of holding the team together despite the expectations that seemed to decline with injuries to the pitching staff - including season-ending injuries to talented freshmen Tyler Schimpf and Parker Joe Robinson.

"Coach (Garrido) talked to us about how expectations can be the demon," Gurwitz said. "We were trying to search for answers about why we weren't producing and weren't winning. And you can kind of start to lose trust. But after our pitching performances and hitting performances in the Big 12 Tournament, I like our chances."

 

 

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