Tourney Opener Pits Texas vs. No. 8 Seed Tech

Texas enters today's newly reconfigured Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City as the league's regular season champion and the tourney's No. 1 seed, but the Horns are no longer riding the momentum of a 10-game winning streak. That dissipated in Columbia last weekend when the Tigers took three straight from Texas as the Horns closed out the season just as they began it, on a three-game losing streak.

In its Oklahoma City opener on Wednesday at 1 p.m., Texas (38-18, 19-7) will take on a Texas Tech team (31-23-1, 9-16-1) that is also coming in on a three-game losing streak after dropping all three to Oklahoma State last weekend. But that result was just one week removed from a Red Raider sweep of Mizzou, which followed that up with a sweep of the Horns. But before that, the Raiders lost six straight conference games, while Texas won an equal number. Head to head, the Horns and Red Raiders split two one-run games back in mid-March.

Then there's the fact that No. 1 seeds have not fared well in recent Big 12 Tournaments. Last season, the No. 8 seed Tech knocked off No. 1 seed Nebraska to open tourney play. A year earlier in 2004, the last time Texas played as a No. 1 seed, the Horns dropped a 5-2 decision to the No. 8 seed Huskers. And No. 8 seed Texas A&M also pulled the upset trick in 2002 with an 8-4 win over the No. 1 seed (and eventual national champion) Texas.

But perhaps more important than history or each team's recent win or loss streaks is the guys scheduled to be on the hill, and Orangebloods should remember probable Tech starter Miles Morgan from his 15 K, one earned run, complete game win over Texas in Lubbock back in March. With UT scheduled to send No. 4 starter Kenn Kasparek to the hill, Tech appears to have the advantage on the mound. Including his win over the Horns, Morgan is 6-6 on the season with a 3.49 ERA (and remember, the Raiders play in hitter-friendly Dan Law Field). Kasparek is square in the middle of a sophomore slump, owning a 3-2 record (he was 8-0 last season) with a 4.62 ERA (up from 2.10 as a freshman) in his 21 '06 appearances. His numbers are even worse in Big 12 play: 0-1 with a 4.82 ERA. The good news: In his most recent start, vs. Texas State on May 2, Kasparek surrendered just one earned run in 4-2/3 innings of work. If Kasparek can go four-plus and the Horns own a lead, look for Texas to use a bullpen by committee (Joey Parigi, Kyle Walker, Joseph Krebs, Randy Boone, Austin Wood) for the final frames to try to close out an opening win.

Under the tourney's new format, every team in the eight-team field will play three games in a round robin, four-team group format, with the winner of each group advancing on to Sunday's final. So Texas' two opponents after Tech are already set: No. 5 seed Baylor on Thursday at 5 p.m. and No. 4 seed Nebraska on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Horns swept the Bears in mid-April, and lost two of three to the Huskers later that month. No. 2 seed Oklahoma State, No. 3 seed Oklahoma, No. 6 seed Kansas and No. 7 seed Missouri will battle to advance to Sunday's championship game from the other group.

Barring another three-game sweep to send Texas to the NCAAs on a six-game losing streak, the Horns appear to be in good position to land a national top 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament (Texas is No. 5 in the latest simulated RPI projections). But a couple of wins in OKC to reach the symbolically important 40-win mark would almost certainly help the cause.

Note: Junior CF Drew Stubbs was named one of 30 semifinalists for the 2006 Brooks Wallace Award, presented annually to the nation's top collegiate baseball player. Stubbs, who owns a .347 batting average with 11 home runs and 50 RBI in 2006, currently holds position among the school's career top five for at bats, hits, extra-base hits, total bases, sacrifice hits, home runs and stolen bases. Additionally, he presently ranks among the top 10 players in the Big 12 Conference with team-best totals for hits (75), runs (57), home runs (11), steals (23), total bases (129), walks (39) and slugging (.597) in 2006.

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