Longhorns face Oklahoma for pivotal series in Norman

Shane Lewis

Rivalry week continues for Texas. After falling 6-5 to former Big 12 foe Texas A&M on Tuesday, the Longhorns prepare for a conference clash this weekend with No. 16 Oklahoma.

Last year, Texas (22–13, 9–3 Big 12) was victorious in the season series against the Sooners, winning two out of three in the friendly confines of UFCU Disch-Falk Field. But this time around, Texas will be traveling to Norman, Oklahoma, in what is sure to be a hostile environment.

“Last year, it was pretty intense,” junior pitcher Chase Shugart said. “We thrived in that environment last year (at home). Now we have to go into their place and thrive in that environment.”

While bragging rights are always at stake between the two teams, there will be much more in play in the series. Oklahoma (25–11, 8–1 Big 12) sits at first place in the conference, while Texas sits two games back in third. With a series win, the Longhorns would gain ground on first place in the conference and a step closer to hosting the regional game that comes with winning the Big 12.

“It’s obviously on our minds, and we realize that they’re first,” junior pitcher Josh Sawyer said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just another baseball game for us. If we play our game I expect us to come out on top. It’ll be a good challenge for our team. It’s time to make a statement and try to host a regional.”

To take the series, the Longhorns will have to do something they haven’t done well all year — win on the road. Texas is just 4–7 away from the Disch this year, losing three of its last four road games.

But Texas believes its struggles away from home will help prepare the team for tough away environments down the road. Already the Longhorns have played road games against ranked opponents LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas.

“I feel like this team’s maturing, and we’re not even paying attention to the environment anymore,” Shugart said. “It’s all about staying within ourselves. We know we’re really good when we score first, and we’ll have the opportunity being the visitor. Hopefully we can scrap a couple runs across and get some good pitching.”

While a trip to Norman for a chance to take hold of the Big 12 may seem like a big opportunity, Texas head coach David Pierce has played it off, maintaining that there should be no extra weight of playing a conference rival.

“I think it’s a poor mistake if I go in and try to build this series up,” Pierce said. “I like to talk about RPIs (rating percentage index) and I like to talk about standings, and I want them to be educated. That will be a part of our meetings and conversations, but it won’t get to the point where we have to win this.”

Even though Pierce has downplayed the series, players realize the importance of going out and beating a conference rival. Junior infielder Kody Clemens stressed that the team needs to go out and capture a series victory.

“Obviously we need to take two out of the three, and hopefully if we’re playing well, we can sweep,” Clemens said. “We’re definitely looking to win the series.”