Baseball: Title-clinching win eludes Horns

Texas, needing two wins in the three-game weekend series with Nebraska to clinch at least a tie for the Big 12 regular season title, came up one win short after taking just one of three from the second-place Huskers at the Disch.

Still-perfect Justin Simmons, now 13-0 on the season, and closer Huston Street, who picked up his sixth save, provided the mound work in UT's lone win, a 3-2 triumph over NU on Saturday that evened the series and set up a possible title-clinching win on Sunday. Instead of celebration, Sunday's outcome provided disappointment as the Horns fell behind early and could never quite catch up in the series rubber match.

Nebraska kept its slim conference title hopes alive by blasting Longhorn pitching on Friday and Sunday for eight and seven runs, respectively, in its 8-3 and 7-5 wins. UT's staff ERA jumped to 2.67 after the Husker pounding.

Nebraska's two wins over the Horns, coupled with weekend series sweeps by Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, left seven teams still in contention for at least a piece of the Big 12 title (see Current conference standings below). Texas and Texas A&M, though, are the only teams that completely control their own destinies. The first-place Horns (16-8), after an off weekend, and the currently tied-for-sixth Ags (11-10), after taking on fourth-place OSU in Stillwater this coming weekend, square off on the final weekend of the season. The situation for UT is simple: take two or three from A&M and, regardless of any other outcomes from around the league, the conference crown will reside in Austin. One win could also earn the Horns the regular season championship depending on the results in some of the other remaining conference series. Even an Aggie sweep wouldn't necessarily knock Texas out of the title, although it would at best be shared with Nebraska. If the Aggies win out against both the Cowboys and the Horns, they will own the championship (although the Sooners could tie them for the title by also winning out).

The currently second-place Huskers wrapped up their league schedule with the series in Austin at 16-11 and obviously need three Texas losses, plus some other losses by contending teams, to tie for the title. Third-place Baylor (13-10), fifth-place Texas Tech (13-11) and tied-for-sixth OU (11-10) are also still in contention but face a bit more daunting task to take a share of the title.

None of the teams behind Texas has an easy road, though. Aside from the UT-A&M series in Austin and College Station, Okie State, after facing the Ags this weekend, takes on Oklahoma on the final weekend of conference play. OU travels to Kansas before the Bedlam series in Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Baylor heads to the High Plains in two weekends to take on Tech to close out both teams' league seasons.

In other words, Texas (39-13 overall) still has the definite upper hand in the race to be crowned conference king. The two losses to Nebraska simply left the door slightly ajar for the Huskers or one of the other five contending teams to sneak into the league throne room.

Notes: The scheduled May 7 game with Southwest Texas State has been cancelled in order to comply with NCAA schedule limitations. The Horns next return to action vs. Rice in Houston at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 14 before their final three games of the season vs. A&M. With the losses to the Huskers, the game vs. the Owls takes on a bit of added importance in UT's bid to host a regional and potentially a superregional at the Disch. A top eight national seed would ensure Texas a host spot through to Omaha (given a regional win, of course) and another win over Rice would be a boost in that effort, not only pushing the Horns over the 40-win mark but improving the team's RPI heading into the post-season. Taking at least two-of-three from the Aggies would also be beneficial in terms of hosting opportunities, earning Texas the Big 12 title and a strong season-ending finish, which could also factor into the seeding committee's decisions.

Current conference standings:

1. Texas 16-8 (.667)
2. Nebraska 16-11 (.593)
3. Baylor 13-10 (.565)
4. Oklahoma St. 11-9 (.550)
5. Texas Tech 13-11 (.542)
T6. Texas A&M 11-10 (.524)
T6. Oklahoma 11-10 (.524)
8. Missouri 9-14 (.391)
9. Kansas State 8-13 (.381)
10. Kansas 4-16 (.200)

*The top eight teams advance to the Big 12 Tournament in Arlington.

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