"It makes for an evenly-matched tournament and for some very exciting games," Garrido added.
It's probably just a little bit of coach-speak, as well. Texas opens post-season play against a squad with a losing record before facing either a less-than-vintage Stanford team or a less-than-pedigreed N.C. State team that has just one College World Series appearance in 100 years of baseball. It obviously doesn't mean that each team isn't capable of springing the upset against a storied Texas program that, year-in and year-out, considers anything less than a CWS berth somewhat of a debacle. After all, all three Regional opponents boast a current win-streak against the Horns when the double-elimination tournament begins Friday morning.
Texas is slated for a 3 p.m. first-pitch against a UTA team that took a 6-3 decision at the Disch on April 11. It was Longhorn freshman LHP Joey Parigi's first collegiate start and Texas had just completed a three-game sweep at Kansas State when the Mavs posted a 'W' in the lopsided series. Texas also dropped two-of-three at then-No. 11 Stanford in mid-February. The Cardinal have since fallen to a 30-25 mark while Texas rebounded to capture its third Big 12 Conference title in five seasons.
"I think the number one thing we've improved on since then is we've got a lot more leadership now than earlier in the year," CF Drew Stubbs told Inside Texas. "A lot of the guys who had been here, the seniors, have taken on the leadership role and have done a good job of showing the new guys what it's all about. The guys that are here for their first time around have made great strides. They've gained a lot of experience. I think they'll be ready to play and contribute a lot during this part of the season."
Meanwhile, N.C. State has played Texas three times and won all three. The most recent came on May 15, 2004 when the Horns were shut-out on both ends of a doubleheader for the only time in school history.
"We haven't scored a run against them yet," Garrido said.
For the record, Texas managed five runs against the Wolfpack in the only other series meeting back in 1968. It came during N.C. State's only CWS appearance, the 6-5 win over Texas which eliminated the Horns at Omaha.
There's been a steady rain in Austin since Wednesday, but Garrido hopes post-season lightning will strike twice by naming sophomore RHP Kenn Kasparek (4-2, 4.13 ERA) his starter for Friday's opener. Texas' version of Big Unit (Kasparek stands 6-10, 245) saved his best for last during the 2005 national championship run. As a true freshman, Kasparek never made it out of the bullpen during the last month of the regular season before posting a 3-0 mark with a 2.10 ERA down the stretch. He drew the starting nod in Texas' Regional opener against Quinnipiac, resulting in a 20-2 runaway.
Kasparek struggled down the stretch during the regular season, particularly in getting command of his breaking ball. He endured six starts without notching the win but then tossed six shutout innings against Texas Tech in last week's Big 12 Tournament.
"I feel fine because I've been in the same position before," Kasparek said. "Last year, I kind of turned it up at the end of the season. It's not anything new for me. I've got to go out there and come out on fire."
Garrido is expected to go with ace RHP Kyle McCulloch (8-4, 3.24 ERA) against the Stanford-N.C. State survivor on Saturday afternoon. The junior is 7-0, with a 2.67 ERA and 47 Ks, during his last 10 starts. RHP Randy Boone has emerged as Texas' top middle-relief pitcher, bringing a .51 ERA in 17.2 innings pitched during his past 12 outings. The Horns' pitching staff finished the conference season with the top league ERA (3.75).
Texas brings a .297 team batting average to the Regional, paced by Hunter Harris (.362 in 58 at-bats) and Carson Kainer (.361 in 219 plate appearances). Kainer leads his team with 61 RBI. Stubbs is the team's third-leading hitter (.352) and leads his club with 31 stolen bases in 25 attempts.
RF Jordan Danks was restored to the active roster for this weekend's Regional. The freshman fractured his right ankle running the base paths against Baylor on April 17. He is expected to DH this weekend and assumes his spot in RF should Texas advance to the Super Regionals.
The defending national champs have the opportunity to play all of their post-season games on their own rug leading up to the College World Series. The Top Eight national seeds will also host the best-of-three Super Regional, June 9-11, if each survives the double-elimination tournament this weekend. Looking ahead, a Regional championship for Texas means the Horns would host the winner from the Corvallis, Oregon series (Oregon State, Kansas, Hawaii, Wright State). Looking way ahead, Texas would face Big 12 nemesis Nebraska in the opening round at Omaha if the seeds hold true to form.
Here is a thumbnail sketch of the other teams competing in the Austin Regional:
UT-Arlington (29-44): The Mavericks are one of four teams in the 64-team NCAA Tournament with a losing record but extended their season when they became the first No. 5 seed to ever win the Southland Conference Tournament. Texas holds a 50-15 series record against UTA with all games decided in Austin. UTA is making its fourth trip to the NCAA Regionals, its third in Austin. C Adam Moore was named his conference's Newcomer of the Year after the Nebraska-transfer led his club with a .358 average in 246 at-bats. He also leads the team with 50 RBI. UTA's team-ERA (5.64) is the worst in the Regional.
N.C. State (38-21): The Wolfpack bring the biggest bats to the Austin Regional, combining for a .335 average. CF Matt Camp leads his club with a .387 average and joins 2B Ramon Corona (.363 average, a team-best 141 total bases) on the First-Team All-ACC squad. Camp led the ACC in batting during league play (.417) and on-base percentage (.483). N.C. State is making its fourth straight post-season appearance and 20th overall. The program posted three wins in the ACC Tournament before falling to national No. 1 seed Clemson, 8-4. Junior RHP Gib Hobson (9-1, 4.60 ERA) will start Friday against Stanford while RS-sophomore Eryk McConnell (7-6, 4.20) will be the Game Two starter. Wolfpack pitchers have combined for a 4.37 ERA.
Stanford (30-25): Stanford owns a 19-17-1 overall record against Texas in a series that dates back to 1981. The Cardinal bring the most anemic bats (.279) and arguably the most inconsistent pitching staffs (4.39 ERA) to the Regional. Stanford's most experienced pitcher is RHP Greg Reynolds (6-5, 3.47 ERA, 111.2 innings pitched). SS Chris Minaker carries the Cardinal's steadiest bat (.346 average, 64 RGI 11 home runs).
AUSTIN REGIONAL SCHEDULE
(All games will be televised on ESPNU)
FRIDAY'S SCHEDULE (all times CST)
Game I: No. 3 Stanford vs. No.2 North Carolina State, 11 a.m.
Game 2: No.1 Texas vs. No. 4 UT-Arlington, 3 p.m.
Game 3: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 11 a.m.
Game 4: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 3 p.m.
Game 5: Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 loser, 12 p.m.
Game 6: Regional Championship Game, Game 4 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 4 p.m.
MONDAY'S SCHEDULE (if necessary)
Game 7: Second Regional Championship Game, 6p.m.