May 16-18, 2008
Game 1 - UFCU Disch-Falk Field; Austin, Texas
Games 2 & 3 - Olsen Field; College Station, Texas
RHP Chance Ruffin (6-3, 1.91 ERA) vs. LHP Brooks Raley (6-0, 3.52 ERA)
LHP Austin Wood (3-3, 5.19 ERA) vs. RHP Barret Loux (4-1, 4.55 ERA)
RHP Kenn Kasparek (4-3, 3.70 ERA) vs. Clayton Ehlert (6-2, 3.04 ERA)
A wild regular season is about to wrap up for the Texas Longhorns.
Texas takes on the Aggies this weekend to close out Big 12 play. The Horns are 31-19 overall but sit at just .500 (12-12) in conference. Texas A&M, on the other hand, is the No. 9 team in the country and is in position to win the Big 12 regular season crown.
The only team standing in the Aggies' path is the Longhorns, but according to Texas junior outfielder Kyle Russell, having a chance to deny A&M a title is a spot he loves being in...no matter how tough the task in front of him.
"It's always nice, especially when they're rivals like this, but they are a good team," said Russell. "They are a team team. When you see them, they are the definition of a team because they play hard and they hit as a team."
It's reflected in the statistics. Texas A&M is second in the Big 12 in hitting with a .322 batting average. However, the Longhorns are only two spots behind in hitting, in fourth with a .305 average. Texas is also only one spot back in pitching with a 4.57 team ERA (4th in the Big 12), compared to A&M's 3.89 (3rd). Texas is also only two spots back in fielding -- although it's the difference between being last in the conference and third to last in the conference.
Needless to say, fielding is not either team's strong suit, with Texas A&M putting up 71 errors on the season and Texas putting up 74, but if the two teams are so close in so many statistical categories, why the huge discrepancy in the standings?
Sophomore pitcher/first baseman Brandon Belt said it has to do with how a team performs in the clutch and the Longhorns have not done well in that department.
"Earlier in the year, sometimes our pitching would come together and our hitting wouldn't work good, then our hitting would work good and our pitching wouldn't work so great," said Belt.
But now Belt sees a very different team.
"We're definitely a lot closer than we were earlier in the year," said Belt. "It seems like a lot of stuff is coming together right now."
It's showing up in the win column. Texas has won seven of its last nine games and has been getting consistent performances from the mound and clutch hitting from the plate. However, Texas junior catcher Preston Clark said that the confidence gained from those games is more important than the actual wins because the Horns are going to need that confidence in the post-season.
"The win column doesn't matter," said Clark. "We're going to get to Regionals now, we've pretty much got into it, now we're trying to stay focused on playing as a team and building as a team on and off the field. We're doing a lot better at that."
Clark said that the team has come together as of late and for the first time all year the Horns are all on the same page.
"Guys are hanging out, having a great time together," said Clark. "We're building camaraderie and friendship right now and it's going to be huge for us. The win column doesn't matter to us. We're just trying to go there as a team and be the best we can be as a team and that'll carry us though the Regionals."
The Longhorns have played well enough as of late that, barring a catastrophe such as being blown out multiple times and being swept out of the Big 12 Tournament, they are likely in the NCAA Tournament. Being a one-seed in a home Regional probably isn't in the cards for UT, but a continued strong performance to close out the year could give Texas a No. 2-seed in a nearby Regional (Houston, for example) that could still play host to plenty of fans in Burnt Orange.
But first thing's first: Texas A&M. Game 1 of the series is at the Disch. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m.