CWS: It'll Be Howell On The Hill For Horns

The first pitch in the top half of the first of UT's College World Series opener vs. Arkansas will come out of the left hand of Texas ace <B>J.P. Howell</B>. The junior lefty won 14 games on the season vs. just two losses and sports the best ERA (2.26) among starters on what the local Omaha paper is calling "the best pitching staff to ever take the mound at Rosenblatt."

High praise considering just some of the previous Burnt Orange groups, particularly the 1983 national champs with Calvin Schiraldi, Roger Clemens, Mike Capel, Kirk Killingsworth and Bruce Ruffin. But vs. the Pigs, the historic depth of the Longhorn staff will probably be less an issue than simply the effectiveness of Howell, and his ability to hand the game over in the late innings, with a lead, to the Texas 'pen.

"I like to coach where the starter can come out after six innings," Augie Garrido said Thursday. "If we can get into the seventh, we're looking at nine outs, and (Huston Street) can get nine outs. But if you use him for nine outs today, can you use him the next day? With this staff, I wouldn't be afraid to go 5 or 6 with a starter, bring in (Buck) Cody or (J. Brent) Cox for an inning or two, and Street for an inning to finish the game."

So far this season, Howell has given Garrido that luxury (and often more) in the vast majority of his starts. The Kansas City Royals' first round draft pick started 15 regular season games in '04 and, after a 4-1/3 inning struggle vs. Stanford on Feb. 20 in his first start of the season, Howell went six-plus in every start but two (a mid-week game vs. Rice when, by design, he went just three innings, giving up just one hit and no runs in UT's 3-2 win over the Owls, and vs. Missouri, when Tom Holliday pulled him after four -- again after giving up just one hit and no runs -- after the Horns opened up a 15-0 lead heading into the fifth). Over that stretch, he tossed four complete games, including a 3-1 gem over CWS participant Cal State-Fullerton.

In three post-season starts, Howell hasn't been quite as dominant, although Texas (55-13) has emerged victorious in all three games. J.P. went five full, giving up five runs but only two earned, against A&M in an elimination game in the Big 12 Tournament. He followed that up with another five inning performance against Oral Roberts in the Austin Regional, leaving the game on the hook for the potential loss before the Horns rallied late for the W. Then, vs. Vandy, he pitched a bit closer to form, going seven and striking out 13 while surrendering two earned runs.

After that Super Regional opening win over the Commodores, Howell credited the fact that he was calmer than he had been in previous starts. Whether he will retain the relaxed demeanor in Omaha that he showed in Austin is unknown, but if he relies on previous Series opening experience, he might just keep cool under the CWS lights. In last year's Rosenblatt opener vs. Miami, Howell earned the win with a six-inning, eight-K, two-earned-run performance. Four days later, though, Rice touched him for three earned runs in 4-1/3 innings in a game the Owls won 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth with a rally off of Street.

Arkansas (45-22) will counter Howell with Charley Boyce. The 6-0, 201-pound sophomore Razorback right hander is 10-2 with a 3.10 ERA and 79 Ks in 110-1/3 innings pitched. With Boyce on the hill, you can expect the Texas lineup to include switch hitter Michael Hollimon in at short and lefties Dooley Prince or Hunter Harris in at DH (and switch hitter RF Ryan Russ, who went a perfect 6-6 in the Supers) along with the six regular righties (CF Drew Stubbs, 2B Seth Johnston, 1B Curtis Thigpen, C Taylor Teagarden, 3B David Maroul and LF Carson Kainer).

First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. (ESPN2).

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