Batter Up! Texas Baseball Swings Into Action

Gunning for its fourth College World Series appearance in five years, the Texas Longhorn baseball team — ranked as high as No. 5 nationally — opens the 2004 season at Hawaii Friday (10:30 p.m. CST).

Seventh-year head coach Augie Garrido is relying on a seasoned pitching staff to compensate for the loss of last year’s starting outfield that included the lineup’s top four hitters. While junior All-American reliever Huston Street (8-1, 14 saves, 1.33 ERA in 2003) remains the personable cover boy for the Burnt Orange, Augie’s ace is junior lefty J.P. Howell. The USC transfer forged a team-best 10-2 record last season, fanning 105 batters in 114 innings.

Senior LHP Justin Simmons is either the joker in the deck or the ace up Garrido’s sleeve. Simmons was untouchable during his 16-1 All-American sophomore season and took the win in Texas’ CWS national championship win over South Carolina. But last year Simmons stumbled to a 5-6 mark and a 4.29 ERA as the Texas defense often inexplicably crumbled when the Duncanville native was on the mound.

RHP Sam LeCure emerged at the end of his freshman campaign, finishing with a 5-0 mark and a 3.74 ERA. LeCure is best known for his 5-1 win over Miami in the 2003 CWS.

Former Oklahoma State head coach Tom Holliday has been the Longhorn pitching coach since July after he was replaced in Stillwater by former Texas pitching coach Frank Anderson. Former Longhorn standout and 15-year MLB veteran Dennis Cook will also work with Texas hurlers as a volunteer assistant coach.

Junior Curtis Thigpen (C/1B) returns from his CWS All-Tournament Team appearance after starting 53 games last season. He is joined by sophomore Taylor Teagarden (C/1B) who was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2003. Junior Seth Johnson is expected to hold down second base. The right-hander played four positions last year and was named to the Big 12 All-Tournament team. Junior Michael Hollimon is penciled in at shortstop. Fair or not, the switch-hitter became Texas’ identified patient last season after committing 13 infield errors despite 91 career starts.

One of these days, junior J.D. Reininger will find a home in the Longhorn lineup. For now, the former designated hitter will likely yield third base to JC transfer David Maroul (Grayson County College).

Junior transfers are expected to shore up the Texas outfield, including RF Dooley Prince (an All-American outfielder from McNeese State) and LF Matt Spencer (the Navarro College transfer batted .458 last season). CF Drew Stubbs is a leading candidate for 2004 Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors. Considered one of the premiere high school players in the country last season, Stubbs was the Houston Astros third round draft pick last year before signing with Texas.

The 2004 Longhorns follow the 50-20 team that finished No. 3 nationally and tied for second during the Big 12 regular season. Texas is defending Big 12 Tournament champ and knocked off then top-ranked Florida State in the NCAA Super Regionals in Tallahassee to advance to the CWS.

Texas’ home opening series against San Diego is set for February 6-8.

The Horns get four regular season shots against defending national champ Rice, starting with the Feb. 14-15 Minute Maid Classic in Houston. The Owls, who eliminated Texas from the College World Series and who are now ranked No. 1 in Baseball America’s preseason poll, are slated to play at the Disch on March 2 before Texas returns to Houston on March 9. The last of the four is scheduled for the Forty Acres on April 13.

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