Longhorns run a long-shot in Big 12 tournament

Michael Shapiro

Heading into last year’s Big 12 tournament, Texas sported a 26–25 record, sitting at fifth in the conference. Postseason play was improbable, with the Longhorns needing to rip off four consecutive wins to claim the Big 12 title and advance to the NCAA regionals.

As luck would have it, the burnt orange did just that, taking down Texas Tech, Baylor twice and Oklahoma State en route to winning the conference title.

This year, the Longhorns sit in a similar — if admittedly stickier — situation. Head coach Augie Garrido’s squad now sits at 22–30, 10–14 Big 12, far from the high expectations heading into the season. What began as an attempt to right the ship quickly turned into a wreck, with the regular season ending with six losses in seven games.

But despite the Longhorns limping to the finish line heading into the Big 12 tournament, they theoretically have a chance to repeat the 2015 magic and secure a berth in the regionals.

However, little to no stock should be put in that possibility. Last year’s run was an anomaly, not an indicator of future performance. This year’s group underachieved throughout the season, repeatedly failing to field the ball cleanly, put away games with its bullpen and hit with runners in scoring position. Not exactly a recipe for postseason success.

Texas’ greatest strength last year was its pitching staff, which shined in the Big 12 tournament. The Longhorns gave up under two runs per game in four contests, led by then-senior Parker French alongside then-junior Ty Culbreth who threw a complete game shutout against Baylor.

And while Culbreth has proved to be Texas’ ace as a senior in 2016 — tied for the Big 12 lead in wins with eight — the staff behind him has been inconsistent.

Only one other Longhorns pitcher has a winning record over .500, with sophomore starter Kyle Johnston going just 3–2 on the year. Joining Culbreth and Johnston in Texas’ final weekend starter is Morgan Cooper. The sophomore was efficient is his past start against Baylor, going six innings while allowing just two runs, but previously struggled, failing to net a win since April 8.

Cooper and Johnston are both talented arms, but their inconsistency is far from comforting. Paired with a bullpen that has been notorious for blowing leads throughout the season, the Longhorns staff will have to turn things around rapidly if it wants to advance.

The outlook isn’t pretty for the Longhorns, but as Garrido likes to say, college baseball is a game of imperfections. A Texas run through the Big 12 tournament isn’t completely inconceivable, but fans shouldn’t count on it. Come June, the Longhorns are more likely to be on the couch than on the diamond.