Texas’ unlikely turnaround

Travis Hlavinka

At first glance, Texas’ appearance at the College World Series was just a 0-2 outing — in other words, a disappointment. What the Longhorns’ quick elimination failed to show, though, was the unlikely turnaround they had to perform just to qualify for the NCAA tournament. 

Pierce saw 11 players on his roster head to the MLB after his first year in Austin, including dominant pitcher Morgan Cooper and offensive superstar Kacy Clemens. Longhorn fans’ expectations weren’t exactly through the roof. After a nightmarish 9-9 start to the season, all those expectations seemed to do was sink.  

That’s why, despite the back-to-back losses in the College World Series that sent Texas home almost immediately, Pierce exuded nothing but pride as he reflected on his team’s run in his final press conference in Omaha. 

“There’s nobody in this room and nobody in the country expected this team to be here (in Omaha),” Pierce said. “And (the team) did a heck of a job from the start to finish, from the fall ball into early spring. The things that they had to accomplish to get here is incredible.”

Early in the season, Texas did not resemble a team capable of hosting or even qualifying to play in a regional tournament, much less a trip to Omaha. After dropping five consecutive games to a pair of top-10 teams in Stanford and Arkansas, Texas was officially a .500 team. 

Then, the Longhorn baseball program received news that exceeded everything that unfolded in their five-game losing streak. 

The day after the final loss to Arkansas, on March 15, legendary head baseball coach Augie Garrido, who led the Texas baseball program for 19 seasons and won two national championships in eight College World Series appearances in his tenure, passed away. The death rocked the university and the college baseball landscape for the remainder of the season. 

However, it supplied Pierce and his team with the inspiration it needed to press the restart button on the season. 

From that point on, the team would lose only nine of its next 37 games en route to a Big 12 regular season championship. One of the major contributing factors to the astounding recovery can be attributed to the historic effort from junior second baseman Kody Clemens.

Clemens, who was a consensus All-American, Big 12 Player of the Year and Golden Spikes Award finalist finished the year with a .351 average and 24 home runs, second most in the country. Clemens, who had his first fully healthy year at Texas since his arrival, was the team’s catalyst all year and one of the most dangerous players in the country.

“What a year Kody Clemens had,” Pierce said. “It’s second to none. And for us to be able to witness and see what he did all year and be a part of that and the energy he brought back to the University of Texas was incredible.”

Going into the postseason, Texas would host a regional tournament at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, where it would go 3-0 including a 8-3 win over Texas A&M. 

The Longhorns would then host a Super Regional tournament against Tennessee Tech. After going down 0-1 in the best-of-three series, Texas junior pitchers Chase Shugart and Matteo Bocchi would put up two of the season’s best pitching performances, allowing Texas to take the next two games and secure a spot at the College World Series in Omaha almost three months after its 9-9 start and the loss of Augie Garrido. 

“It’s kind of a crazy thing that we’re celebrating his (Augie’s) life just a couple months ago,” redshirt junior pitcher Parker Joe Robinson said. “And then to have us perform it seems like right after he passed away. Our team kind of flipped a switch. I don’t know, maybe Augie was with us.”

There, the team would lose its only two games to Arkansas and Florida, ending the Longhorns’ dreams at a national title almost immediately. But Texas’ 0-2 appearance wasn’t viewed as a failure by any sense of the imagination. In just his second season, Pierce and the baseball program showed Texas fans something the big three sports haven’t earned in quite some time: success.