Texas baseball non-conference preview

Nick Hargroue, General Sports Reporter

Texas baseball is two days away from facing its first opponents of the season, tasked with developing a young roster into a championship contender by season’s end.

The 2023 schedule wastes no time throwing the Longhorns’ unproven roster into the fire and flames this weekend, as Texas plays two top-15 opponents in No. 11 Arkansas and No. 6 Vanderbilt in the College Baseball Showdown. This is as good a test as any for head coach David Pierce’s inexperienced lineup, as early competition will show him who has the right mentality and toughness for intense, down-to-the-wire scenarios deep into the postseason. 

Arkansas, in a similar vein to Texas, returns very few starters from its College Baseball World Series roster last season. Returning sophomore infielder Peyton Stovall spent most of last season at first base and hit for a .295 average as an instant impact freshman, while returning junior Brady Slavens led the team in homeruns with 16 in 2022, spending most of his time in the designated hitter position. The Longhorns play Arkansas on Friday, so Pierce should have a fairly good idea about how his team will stack up later in the tournament.

Vanderbilt is a much more proven team than Arkansas, with junior All-American center fielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. and the sophomore All-American duo of pitchers Carter Holton and Devin Futrell returning. The Commodores, much like Texas, are World Series competitors year in and year out, so it will be interesting to see how Texas’ own budding pitching staff including junior Lucas Gordon and redshirt sophomore Tanner Witt fare against a potent Vanderbilt offense on Sunday.

Texas will have two and a half weeks before it faces its next toughest opponent on the schedule in No. 1 LSU at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The Tigers enter this season as the running favorites to win the national championship, returning a vaunted pitching staff, a Golden Spikes candidate in junior center fielder Dylan Crews and a transfer third baseman in sophomore Tommy White who hit 27 home runs last year. 

When you have a guy nicknamed ‘Tommy Tanks’ and a Golden Spikes favorite on your team, it’s hard not to see why sites have LSU as the favorite. But Texas will look to put up a fight in front of what will surely be a packed crowd on Feb. 28 in Austin.

The last highlight of the Longhorns’ non-conference schedule comes in the form of long-standing rival Texas A&M. The Aggies have had Texas’ number the past few years, winning 12-9 in Austin last year and 2-0 in College Station the year prior, so the Longhorns will surely have this game circled on their schedule when they head to College Station on March 28.

The Aggies return head coach Jim Schlossnagle, formerly of TCU, to lead their troops into battle this season. Schlossnagle turned the Aggies from a 29-27 team, near the bottom of the SEC, in 2021 into a 44-20 powerhouse in 2022 that knocked Texas out of the tournament last season and beat the Longhorns on their home turf during the season. Junior infielder/outfielder Jack Moss and senior utility player Austin Bost return to bolster a team that should make another run in the postseason this year.

The Longhorns have their work cut out for them this season as Pierce looks to take his team to a third straight College Baseball World Series appearance and continue to cement Texas as one of the winningest programs in the sport’s history.