Baseball: Can Augie Orchestrate Another Title Run?

Admittedly, many of us (myself included) felt at one point during last season's national championship experience that <B>Augie Garrido</b> had lost whatever magic he possessed at Cal State Fullerton, and that maybe Austin's sunset just wasn't the one for him to ride off into.

Longtime Longhorn fans spoiled for years from high-flying records and rankings under Cliff Gustafson scratched their heads at the current coach's relative ineptitude once he arrived at Texas from California. How could a guy who had won three national crowns at a school with less than half the enrollment and no football program–the ultimate benchmark for legitimizing an athletic department–fail to make any major waves at a place like Texas, which owns 70 conference and four national championships of its own?

Sure, he had taken Texas back to Omaha two years before, but most Orangebloods expected more than one two-and-barbecue CWS appearance with zero conference regular season or tourney titles over five years. And part way through what some surmised as possibly Garrido's last season at Texas, Texas Tech–entering the series with an 0-3 conference mark–defeated the Longhorns two of three (9-0 in the deciding tilt) to saddle Augie's bunch with a 2-4 record in league play.

Gustafson had won 22 conference titles in 29 years–including every one of his first nine seasons–and this guy couldn't grab one solitary crown in probably six?

But Garrido started righting the sinking ship with a 15-0 rout at Missouri on the way to a three-game sweep.

In the next conference series, Kansas upended Texas in the opener, but the Horns rallied to win the series by taking both ends of a doubleheader, and the momentum had begun.

Next came an upset victory over No. 3 Rice, followed by a doubleheader swipe in Norman, which gave UT the three-game nod over 24th-rated OU.

After nailing two of the next three Big 12 series, Garrido's guys clinched the school's first Big 12 title with a sweet three-game sweep over Texas A&M.

The Longhorns continued their dominance of their two traditional rivals by beating the Aggies and Sooners–twice–in the post-season conference tournament, and then captured that crown as well by beating Nebraska in the tourney finale.

Two victories over both Baylor and Houston paved the path back to the College World Series; but would Augie's team make more than a token appearance this time around?

Ace Justin Simmons and stopper Huston Street, with a defensive assist to third baseman Omar Quintanilla, masterfully led Texas to the series-opening 2-1 win over top-ranked Rice, the Horns' third victory of the year over the Owls.

Garrido coached the kids to the final with two more one-run victories, both over Stanford, as freshman Street continued to marvel with late-game heroics.

In the championship game, the son of the famed Longhorn quarterback and pitcher James Street closed the door on South Carolina, as Texas claimed its first national title since 1983. He became the first pitcher ever to produce four saves in the CWS and won its Most Outstanding Player award.

Augie Garrido, much maligned his first several seasons in Austin, suddenly became a hero. He is the only baseball coach to ever win national titles during four separate decades as well as with two separate schools.

Seems the 63-year old manager still wields a wand, or bat, with plenty of potency.

Not that the bar has been raised any higher than the historical expectation for the Horns, but what chance do they have of repeating?

Since the beginning of crowning a national champ in 1947, only seven times in 55 seasons has a squad successfully defended the title, and four of those occurred during USC's other-worldly five straight championships from 1970-'74. Only four separate schools, then, have managed to repeat the magic from the year before, the last being LSU in 1997. [Interesting side note: from 1967-'81, which included that Trojans' run, every title came from California or Arizona-based schools, except one–Texas' crown in 1975 when it rolled to a 59-6 record.]

Historically huge hill to conquer notwithstanding, Texas returns a favorable nucleus, including sophomore stopper Street. All-America and Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Simmons also returns. He fired away to a near-perfect 16-1 record with a 2.52 earned run average and 80 strikeouts in '02.

Expected to ease the loss of Alan Bomer, another standout starting pitcher, is Southern Cal transfer J.P. Howell.

In the batting department, the Horns lose power-hitting first baseman Jeff Ontiveros, who blasted 20 homers, second in the Big 12, but they received a boost when outfielder Dustin Majewski decided to return for his senior season. He led the conference with a .401 batting average and knocked in 50 runs.

Second baseman Tim Moss, who batted .371 and swiped 40 bases, also returns. He earned first-team all-conference honors, but also carries an assault charge that has yet to be cleared up. He is expected to appear in court on February 19, two days before the team begins a three-game series against highly ranked Stanford. Hopefully, that cloud will dissipate shortly.

Other key returnees include shortstop Quintanilla (.329 average), first baseman J.D. Reininger (.320, 13 HRs, 51 RBIs in only 203 at-bats), and third baseman Michael Hollimon.

As is frequently the case though, the key is how good of a staff Garrido and pitching coach Frank Anderson put together. Beyond losing Bomer as noted above, other quality starters Brad Halsey (7-2 record, 2.74 earned run average) and Ray Clark (3.61 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 72.1 innings) have departed.

Anderson has worked wonders in molding a staff since his arrival prior to the 2000 season. All three of his groups of hurlers have led the Big 12 in earned run average and placed among the top five in the nation. It's no anomaly that Texas has earned trips to the College World Series two of Anderson's three years on the Forty Acres.

Though preparing and cultivating a great staff can be a tricky venture (just ask the major league Texas Rangers), going with Anderson is a good bet. Of his last nine groups, seven have led the conference.

Texas fans will find out soon if the 2003 group possesses the talent and intangibles to defend its national championship: the Horns' open the '03 season Friday, January 31 at San Diego.

Bert Hancock has owned two college football-related web sites and was designated "Lead Writer" of one of the first independent web sites dedicated strictly to UT sports. At the University of Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Business degree, his area of specialty was in statistics and probabilities. His "Strength In Numbers" column appears regularly on InsideTexas.com.


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