Baseball: Big 12 Champs!

According to <B>Augie Garrido</B>, <B>Justin Simmons</B> plays bigger and better the bigger the game. Friday night at the Disch simply provided more proof.

The Texas ace hurled a complete-game four-hitter, surrendering just one unearned run in the first inning, to provide the mound work in the Horns' 5-1, Big 12-title-clinching win over Texas A&M.

"It was just another Justin Simmons performance," the Texas head coach said. "It was a game we needed to win and he's done that so many times over the last two years. He brings to the ballpark a relaxed, competitive mentality and it's gratifying to see him get the win, his 14th win and the win that nailed down the conference championship. Baseball seldom gives you what you deserve but it did for Justin tonight."

Simmons improved to a nation's best 14-0 on the season and, with the no-earned-runs performance, lowered his ERA to a sparkling 1.83.

After the Aggies managed their lone run in the first, Texas scored single runs in the third and the fifth before plating three in the eighth on a three-run blast by J.D. Reininger. Reininger launched a two-on, one-out offering by Aggie starter Kyle Parcus over the left field wall just to the left of the Disch-Falk scoreboard. After the Longhorn freshman DH crossed the plate behind Eric Sultemeier and Jeff Ontiveros, that scoreboard read 5-1 Texas.

"It was awesome," the freshman DH said. "I've never been in a game as exciting as that one. Of course we wanted to win at home (but) we didn't feel pressure that we had to win this one."

But win it UT did, eliminating the Ags and the other contenders for the conference crown. With two games remaining in the league season, Texas stands at 17-8 in Big 12 play and 41-13 overall. A&M fell to 34-20 and 13-12 in the conference. The outright championship means the Horns will be the No. 1 seed next week in the Big 12 Tournament in Arlington and will face the No. 8 seed at 8 p.m. on Wednesday evening.

"We now have the trophy that symbolized the way these players have played for a long time," Garrido said minutes after the win. "This team deserved the championship."

The coach, though, after watching his team win UT's first conference title since '96, said one of the things that he really likes about this group is its attitude. "They don't see this (conference title) as defining them," he said.

Two regular season games remain, but more importantly, four titles are still on the table for this Texas team to take: the Big 12 Tournament title next week in Arlington; the subregional title the following week (almost certainly in Austin); the superregional title (also probably in Austin with a subregional win); and, finally, the national title in Omaha.

With Simmons on the hill for any of those championships, you've got to like the Horns' chances.

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