Russell Eyes HR Record As Tech Raids Austin

No. 6 Texas (28-10, 9-3 Big 12) hosts the Texas Tech Red Raiders (22-13, 5-6 Big 12) this weekend for a three game set. The Longhorns aim to remain atop the Big 12 while right fielder Kyle Russell looks to set the Texas home run record.

Aside from the chase for the conference crown, the biggest storyline of the weekend series is UT slugger Kyle Russell's assault on the Longhorn record book. The sophomore right fielder tied Texas’ single season home run record against Kansas this past Saturday when he launched his 19th and 20th bombs of the year. With 18 games left, not even including post-season play, it’s only a matter of time before Russell breaks the record and this weekend’s series against Texas Tech is a good bet, especially because of the pitching he’ll be facing.

The Red Raiders are second worst in the conference in ERA with a team mark of 5.08 and at the bottom of the Big 12 with 366 hits surrendered on the year (including 25 homers). Tech’s top starter is rightie A.J. Ramos (7-1, 3.72 ERA), who is scheduled to take the hill Friday night vs. steady Longhorn lefty James Russell (7-2, 3.20 ERA). Lefty Josh Scofield (0-1, 6.23 ERA) is scheduled for the Saturday start for the Raiders, squaring off against UT ace Adrian Alaniz (8-2, 2.41 ERA), who will look to bounce back after getting shelled last weekend in Lawrence to the tune of six runs, five of them earned, on six hits in only three-plus innings of work.

Right hander Travis Young (3-1, 3.07 ERA) is slated for the Sunday start for Tech. The nagging question for Texas is who is capable of consistently filling its third starter role. Four different pitchers outside of Alaniz and Russell have gotten starts for Texas this season and right now there’s no definitive answer. Against the Jayhawks, Joseph Krebs earned the game three start and pitched four and two-thirds innings, giving up four runs on six hits, but only one of them was earned. Closer Randy Boone came on in the fifth and pitched the rest of the game for Texas to pick up the win, but even with the no-decision in Lawrence, Krebs is 4-0 on the year with a 3.08 ERA and looks likely to hold onto the third starter role, for now anyway. Austin Wood, another of the pitchers fighting for that spot, is also 4-0 on the season (with a 3.88 ERA), but he's come out of the 'pen in all of his Big 12 appearances, including in the second Kansas game when he threw eight pitches for eight balls before being yanked.

The Texas Tech batters are hitting .296, well below Texas’ .328 average as a team, but the Red Raiders are, statistically, a much better hitting team than the Jayhawk squad that pushed across 25 runs vs. the Longhorns last weekend. This is definitely the case in the power-hitting department.

The Longhorns may have Russell, who leads the NCAA in home runs, but the Red Raiders have 39 long balls on the year, which puts them third overall in the conference. Texas is second with 44 total HRs, just behind Oklahoma State, which leads the Big 12 with 48 round-trippers. Kyle Martin and Matt Smith are tied for the Texas Tech team lead with 10 apiece.

But the Red Raiders’ best hitter, by far, is Roger Kieschnick (third cousin to former Longhorn star Brooks Kieschnick). The sophomore outfielder is hitting .342 with 19 doubles, five triples, eight homers and 25 RBI.

Texas is currently sitting at No. 6 in the Baseball America poll. The Horns moved up into the sixth spot on Monday and it marked the seventh consecutive week in which the Longhorns either improved or remained in the same spot in the BA rankings.

The first game of the Tech series is at 6:05 p.m. on Friday. Texas then faces the Red Raiders on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and on Sunday at 1:00 p.m.

Also on tap this weekend in the Big 12, the league's second place teams Oklahoma State (6-3 in the Big 12) and Missouri (6-3) host Kansas State (4-5) and Texas A&M (6-5), respectively. Baylor (4-8) is at Kansas (4-8) and Nebraska (5-7) is at Oklahoma (4-5).

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