Baseball: Back on track?

Since dropping four of seven games over the first 10 days of March, the Longhorn baseball team has bounced back with four straight wins, at least temporarily putting the team back on track.

After winning the first two games of the weekend Missouri series 15-0 and 6-3, the Horns beat the Tigers 7-2 on Sunday to complete the three-game sweep. UT tripped up TCU last Tuesday at Dell Diamond to start the current four-game win streak.

Although the competition level over the last four games didn't quite measure up to that of Baylor and Tech, teams that took two of three from the Horns in consecutive weekend series, Texas did reverse its recent poor performances in the field, on the mound and at the plate.

After committing 13 errors in their four losses to Baylor and Tech, the Horns had just three miscues -- and no more than one in any game -- in four wins over the Frogs and the Tigers. The Texas staff also improved dramatically in the four wins, giving up just six runs on 25 hits after surrendering 50 hits and 35 runs in the four losses to the Bears and Raiders. The Horns got great starting work from Eugene Espineli (6-2/3 IP, 7 H, 1 ER in the 5-1 win over TCU), Brad Halsey (a nine inning, two hit, 13 K, complete game shutout in the 15-zip series opening win over Mizzou), Justin Simmons (8-1/3 IP, 10 H, 2 ER in the 6-3 win over MU) and Ray Clark (a nine inning, six hit, two earned run complete game win over the Tigers in the series finale). Halsey's performance in Columbia earned him Big 12 Pitcher of the Week honors.

At the Dell Diamond and in Columbia, the UT bats also awoke from their slumber, totaling 51 hits and 33 runs. Omar Quintanilla, after going hitless in UT's 9-0 loss to Tech a little over a week ago in his first game of the season following a 21-game NCAA suspension, contributed to the Horns' offensive rebirth, collecting seven hits and driving in five runs in 17 official plate appearances over the last four games. The sophomore, who played short the majority of last season, took over for freshman J.D. Reininger at third and slid into the No. 2 spot in the Longhorn batting order. True freshman standout Michael Hollimon remained at short. 2B Tim Moss and LF Dustin Majewski continued to swing a hot bat, with both extending their hitting streaks to seven games heading into Tuesday's Disch-Falk face-off with McNeese State. Majewski leads all regulars with a .414 batting averaged, trailed closed by Moss at .402. C Ryan Hubele smacked the ball around in the four wins, picking up nine hits and six RBI in 15 officials at-bats, bumping his average to .359 and his team-leading RBI total to 26. 1B Jeff Ontiveros also continued his encouraging at-the-plate resurgence, totaling seven hits, including two homers, and eight RBI in 20 official at-bats in the Horns' four recent Ws. The senior slugger improved his batting average to .308 on the season and with the two long balls, moved to within two of Brooks Kieschnick's UT career record of 43 HRs.

The Horns will look to continue their hot hitting during a two-week break from conference play. After taking on the McNeese State Cowboys Tuesday, Texas will host UT-Pan Am in a weekend series at the Disch before traveling to Palo Alto next weekend to take on Stanford.

Although Pan Am is not a big name opponent, this weekend's series is a big one from a post-season perspective. Texas needs to continue to rack up wins, and of course, finish well in conference, to hope for a recently elusive hosting spot in the NCAA Tourney. Although this UT team has struggled early in conference play, it's done a better job than many of Augie Garrido's teams in taking care of business in non-conference contests. It'll get a chance to continue that trend, and perhaps build momentum heading into the meat of the conference schedule, with seven consecutive non-league games.

Notes: The four straight wins moved the Texas record to 5-4 in the Big 12 and 20-6 overall, UT's best overall start in Garrido's six years aside from the 29-5 season-opening run of the CWS-bound '00 team. The 5-4 league mark puts the Horns in a fourth-place tie with A&M in the conference standings. OU remains at the top with a 3-0 record, followed by 7-2 Baylor and 4-2 Nebraska. Tech is in sixth at 4-5, with Okie State (1-2), Kansas (1-5), Missouri (0-6) and K-State (0-0) rounding out the Big 12 standings.

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