1. Win the Big 12 Tournament Championship
2. Advance out of the Regional
3. Make it back to Omaha
4. Win the National Championship
One down, three to go.
The Longhorns won the Big 12 Tournament with a 15-7 thumping of Kansas State and now have a No. 2 seed in the Rice Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Texas may have had issues early in the year, but, according to Texas head coach Augie Garrido, none of that matters now.
"Championship play is a completely different season, a completely different set of circumstances and the most valuable tool you can take into any performance of anything is confidence," said Garrido.
Right fielder Kyle Russell, who leads the team in homeruns with 15, echoed his coach's sentiments.
"It's a brand new season, so we can start all over again," said Russell. "We don't have to think about the past anymore and focus on the future."
One of the main reasons the Longhorns are focusing on this "new season" is because they are, in many respects, a new team. Garrido brought up his team's improved pitching, defensive work and hitting, but also said that there's a much stronger, overarching aspect of Texas' improvement.
"We're a much different team also spiritually," said Garrido. "The team is responding instinctively to when the other team puts a run on the board, then we rebound and get more runs. We're scoring early, which we did all year long, but now we're scoring in the middle innings and now we're scoring late in the games and we're scoring to overcome a deficit, which we did against Oklahoma to win a game in the (Big 12) Tournament."
The numbers back him up. As Texas went into its final regular season series, taking on Texas A&M -- a series which the Horns ended up sweeping -- there was a curious arrangement of statistics. In each of the major statistical categories (hitting, pitching, fielding), the Aggies and Horns were virtually tied. Yet, A&M was at the top of the conference in the win column and Texas was most decidedly not. The reason? It's not just getting runs, is when you get 'em. Early in Big 12 play, if the hitting was on, the pitching was not and vice versa.
The Longhorns are now doing what they can to put that part of the past behind them, as well as their performances in the two previous Regionals. Each of the last two seasons, Texas played host to an NCAA Regional, but each time the Horns failed to advance.
But as much as the Longhorns are putting those two Regionals behind them, they're also taking lessons from the losses. This year Texas opens against the Red Storm of St. John's, a team that has not been a baseball power, traditionally, but that doesn't mean the Longhorns are looking past their first opponent to the Rice Owls.
"Just because we've never heard of them before doesn't mean we should take them lightly," said center fielder Jordan Danks. "That jumped up to bite us last year when we hadn't ever heard of UC Irvine and they played great baseball. We're not going to take anybody lightly this year."
Texas also isn't going to be taking anyone lightly because, according to Russell, the situation has set up perfectly from a psychological standpoint.
"If you think about it, we're the underdog in this situation and I've never been in an underdog situation at the University of Texas," said Russell. "We're going to Rice's territory, where the pressure is going to be a little bit more on them than it is on us. We're more in a relaxed state. We're not thinking about how it was last year or the year before or anything like that. We're just going to take it day-by-day, game-by-game and whatever happens, happens. May the best team win."
On Friday, we'll find out who the best teams are around the country as the "new season" begins. First pitch against St. John's is scheduled for 2 p.m.
For more on the Rice Regional, see: The Horns Are Headed to Houston