Baseball: Texas Looking For NCAA Boost

A month ago, after losing three straight to Oklahoma State in Austin, Texas wasn't a sure thing to make the Big 12 Tournament, much less the NCAA Tournament. But since that sweep by the Cowboys, the Horns have won 11 of 14 and enter league tournament play looking to continue that hot streak and boost their chances of landing a hosting assignment in the regional round of NCAA Tournament play.

Big 12 Tournament Information

No. 5 seed Texas (34-19, 15-12) vs. No. 4 seed Missouri (37-17, 16-11)
RHP Chance Ruffin (7-3, 1.84 ERA) vs. LHP Rick Zagone (2-3, 5.22 ERA) Wednesday, 9 a.m., Bricktown Ballpark; Oklahoma City, Okla.

No. 5 seed Texas (34-19, 15-12) vs. No. 1 seed Texas A&M (42-14, 19-8)
Pitching match-up TBD
Thursday, 4:00 p.m., Bricktown Ballpark; Oklahoma City, Okla.

No. 5 seed Texas (34-19, 15-12) vs. No. 8 seed Oklahoma (32-23-1, 9-17-1)
Pitching match-up TBD
Saturday, 9 a.m., Bricktown Ballpark; Oklahoma City, Okla.

Division winner vs. Division winner
Sunday, 1 p.m., Bricktown Ballpark; Oklahoma City, Okla.

Coming off a sweep of Big 12 regular season champion and previously projected top 8 national seed Texas A&M, Texas moved up to the mid-20s in both the human polls and the RPI rankings this week, putting the Horns in solid shape for a No. 2 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and in contention to host a regional.

A tournament championship this weekend would obviously be ideal for enhancing the Horns' case – that would mean at least three, and possibly four wins, pushing UT's season win total to 37 or 38, continuing the stretch of strong May play and further boosting the Horns' RPI – but even two wins in the divisional round without making the finals (like in last year's tourney), especially if they came over Wednesday's opponent Missouri and Thursday's opponent Texas A&M, could do the trick.

But UT's opening assignment in OKC is a tough one. The No. 5-seed Horns face a No. 4-seed Missouri squad that took two of three in the teams' regular season match-up, including an historic 31-12 trouncing of Texas in the series opener. The Tigers won 13-2 in the second game before the Horns, behind an inspired pitching performance from Chance Ruffin, salvaged the final game of the series, 9-2. Although Texas would be swept the next weekend in Austin by Okie State, the turnaround in the season may have germinated not only with Ruffin's performance that day between the lines, but also his vocal leadership in the clubhouse that began in Columbia.

The true freshman rightie has developed into UT's staff ace, and will again take the hill for the Horns looking to nail down win number one at Bricktown against a Mizzou squad that has one of the toughest hitting line-ups in the conference. The Tigers are batting .307 for the season and sport two double-digit home run producers in Aaron Senne and Jacob Priday. Texas isn't far behind with a .305 overall team batting average, but that number drops to .283 in Big 12 games.

The Texas side of the bracket includes three of the top four hitting teams in the Big 12 in Texas A&M (.318), Oklahoma (.317) and Missouri (.307). So from a pitching standpoint, it doesn't get any easier as the weekend progresses. Plus, the Aggies' incentive in Oklahoma City is similar to the Horns', although the teams are on different trajectories; A&M desperately needs wins to convince the NCAA selection committee that it deserves a national seed despite its late season collapse of six straight losses including three last weekend to Texas.

The Horns close out round robin play against Oklahoma, a team that Texas took two of three from in Norman during the regular season. The Sooners squeaked into the tournament as the No. 8 seed with a win over Oklahoma State last Sunday combined with a loss by Kansas. The only way OU's season is extended is if the Sooners win the whole thing, so they'll throw everything they've got at Texas on Saturday if they are still in contention to advance to the finals.

UT's advancement to the NCAAs is secure. The question is, will the Horns' path to Omaha begin in Austin. That could well be determined Wednesday and Thursday.

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