Healthy lineup leads Texas into season’s end

Daniel Clay

Texas’ preseason plan to turn into an offensive juggernaut that avoids strikeouts, gets on base often, and lights up the scoreboard has failed to meet expectations.

Prior to last weekend’s three-game slate against the Big 12 rival Kansas Jayhawks, the Longhorns were hitting at just a .260 clip as a team and had scored under five runs in 22 of their 33 contests. 

The offense, though, has slowly been turning around for the Longhorns. 

Junior third baseman Tres Barrera, who was without a homer for the first month and a half of the season, has regained his power stroke and junior second baseman Zane Gurwitz has emerged from his early season slump with a pair of homers over the last two weekends.

“They have more confidence because they’ve had some success hitting the ball out of ballparks,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “You have to have success to have confidence. The thing that’s really rough about that is you have to have confidence to have success. So what comes first?”

Last weekend’s series against Kansas also marked the first time since February that the lineup has been completely healthy.

Sophomore shortstop Joe Baker, who was hitting a .314 before suffering a stress fracture after the Tulane series in March, returned to the lineup last weekend against Kansas. Sophomore outfielder Patrick Mathis and freshman outfielder Tyler Rand have hit well enough to show that their past injuries have healed.

Baker’s return, as well as homers by Gurwitz and Barrera, powered the Longhorns to eight and 12-run outbursts last weekend against Kansas and handed the club its second consecutive series victory.

The new offensive renaissance could end up being too little too late for the Longhorns in terms of their post-season aspirations. Texas heads into a Tuesday night contest against UT-Rio Grande Valley sporting a 16–20 record and needing to win 14 of its final 16 contests to reach the 30-win mark. 

But despite the poor record, the midweek losses to struggling teams such as Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and the series of injuries, the Longhorns sport a respectable 7–5 record in conference and are tied with Oklahoma State for third place in the Big 12.

“I don’t think that we’re necessarily just thinking about the Big 12 tournament,” sophomore outfielder Travis Jones said. “I personally still believe that we have a chance to win the Big 12 conference [in the regular season] and go into the Big 12 tournament with a chip on our shoulder knowing that we can win that as well.”

The odds are stacked against the Longhorns pulling off a late season surge and winning the Big 12. Texas has not hit this well nor been this healthy at any point prior in the season. 

“We’ve been really close for a long time,” senior pitcher Ty Culbreth said. “Things are slowly starting to click a little better for us.”