Horns In Unusual Spot: On The Road In June

It's been more than 80 years since a UT baseball team has ventured into the Magnolia State and nearly 100 since the Longhorns have been to Oxford, Mississippi. Yet it is unseeded Texas that bears the distinction of having been here before.

Even though host Mississippi owns the No. 5 national seed, the Horns are the winningest team in college baseball history (.760) and look to extend their current NCAA record of 31 College World Series appearances. With that kind of pedigree, the only time Texas typically hits the road in June is when it packs it bags for Omaha. As such, the Horns will arrive in Oxford today (for the first time since 1906) knowing that few will consider it an upset if they capture their fifth Super Regional crown in sixth seasons.

"I don't know how other people perceive us other than they put their best hat on for us," head coach Augie Garrido said. "We're their target and their season-makers. If we lose a game, we end up in their media guide the next year."

Texas' best-of-three-series at Oxford begins 6 p.m. (Central), Saturday and will be followed by a 5 p.m. match on Sunday. (The games will be televised on ESPN2.) If necessary, the deciding game will be played Monday to determine which team will advance to the College World Series.

Many expected Texas (a consensus Top Five team most of the season) as a safe bet to host a Super Regional. Yet, a 2005 Longhorns team that was a decided favorite to win the Big 12 title finished third behind Baylor and Nebraska in both the regular season and in the Conference Tournament. That's why Garrido's bunch is living out of a suitcase this weekend.

"It (season) was less than what the fans expected," Garrido conceded. "We went through our ups and downs in a conference that is, in many ways, comparable to the SEC."

For the record, the SEC sent nine teams to the postseason while the Big 12 Conference landed five in Regional action. Three squads from each league advanced to the Super Regionals. No. 3 national seed Nebraska hosts Miami while fourth-seeded Baylor hosts Clemson.

The Longhorns actually played better baseball at the start of the season, Garrido said. The Horns swept Rice and Stanford while winning series at Nebraska and Arizona. But with a legitimate shot at the conference title on the line, Texas lost a series at Kansas for the first time in Big 12 history (May 6-8). The Horns were a pedestrian 8-5 in the month of May and lost all four games to Baylor this season.

"It wasn't about us playing poorly as much as it was the other teams playing extremely well," Garrido said. "We weren't a totally dominating team. When Kansas beat us twice, they beat us fair and square. And then we came out and beat the hell out of them (16-5). Up to that point, they (Jayhawks) were flawless. Other teams get focused on us and we get their best shot".

Texas was also an uncharacteristically mediocre road team this past season. The Horns are 11-8 at opponent's ballparks and 2-2 at neutral sites.

"Our road record is road kill," Garrido said. "It's not as impressive as you want it to be. It appears that, as a result of our record, that we haven't handled foreign environments very well."

The strength of this year's team is clearly its pitching and its defense. The team's current ERA (2.88) is surpassed by only two Longhorn clubs during the past 25 years (last year's All-American pitching staff boasted a 2.66 ERA while the 2002 National Champions sported a 2.82 ERA). Meanwhile, no Longhorn team has enjoyed a better fielding percentage than this year's club (.977) since UT baseball officials started maintaining stats in 1967. (The 1991 Southwest Conference champion Longhorns finished with a .977 fielding percentage but no UT club has bested it.)

It has not been a vintage Texas team, however, at the plate. The 2005 Longhorns had a tendency to scatter its hits, stranding baserunners with excruciating regularity. But the offense came alive during the Austin Regional. Even with Big 12 batting champ SS Seth Johnston mired in a weekend-long slump, the team raised its overall batting average to .304 (the same percentage as the 2002 National Champions). Most of those hits came from the bottom of the order, as Garrido moved former lead-off hitter Robby Hudson to the No. 9 spot while Regional Most Outstanding Player Taylor Teagarden batted seventh. Teagarden's weekend numbers included 13 hits and eight RBIs in 23 plate appearances.

"We did something this past weekend that we haven't been able to do consistently throughout the year; mainly, hit with power," Garrido said. "We strung together hits and got a number of runs. We probably have the highest home run total, by far, of any team in the Tournament. We had timely hitting, we had sustained rallies, we had extra-base hitting, we got two-out hits, we got two-strike hits. That was the thing that showed up last weekend."

The team is scheduled to depart Thursday and practice later in the day.

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