Texas baseball only one game away from winning Big 12 championship after second win against West Virginia

Evan Vieth, Senior Sports Reporter

Texas Baseball is one win away from earning the Big 12 regular season title.

A sentence many fans might’ve thought impossible just under a month ago after being unsuccessful at home with a sweep to an unranked Oklahoma Sooners to fall to 8-7 in the Big 12. Now the Longhorns are playing for a chance to win the conference championship in what was deemed a “rebuilding year” by many in the college baseball world.

“It’s mean, it’s awesome.” junior outfielder Dylan Campbell said. “Obviously we came into the series knowing what was at stake … we still came out and handled our business.”

After losing seven starting position players and two starting pitchers from the 2022 team, Texas baseball looked unlikely to make much noise in the Big 12 or nationally with a rag-tag team of transfers and underclassmen. When the Longhorns started the season 4–7, hopes of winning the Big 12 were all but gone. Even heading into a weekend matchup against West Virginia, the No. 66 team in the nation, featuring three of the best bats in the Big 12, Texas didn’t give up. Now, after winning the first two games of the series by a combined score of 22-6, Texas has taken control of its own destiny to win the Big 12 and possibly have a regional series back in Austin.

“No doubt,” head coach David Pierce said when asked if this is the best the team has played all year. “To see the three (offense, defense and pitching) come together at a good time of the year, it’s exciting for our team.”

Friday night’s 10-4 trouncing of the Mountaineers showcased a newfound strength of the Longhorns’ offense early and often. With one out in the second inning, Texas already had seven runs on the board, mostly thanks to home runs from freshman first baseman Jared Thomas, Campbell, and senior center fielder Eric Kennedy. With a six-run lead and a rowdy crowd behind his back, redshirt sophomore right-hander Lebarron Johnson Jr. got to work against the top 10 team.

“Seeing them produce the runs gives me (the) confidence to go out there and help my team win,” Johnson Jr. said.

Johnson Jr., who has recently worked his way into the number two spot in the rotation for Texas, added another impressive game to an already versatile resume that included five scoreless innings against then-No. 1 LSU in February. LBJ went 5 1/3 innings, striking out 11 and giving up just two runs in his fifth straight start of over five innings.

Johnson Jr. now stands atop the Big 12 in conference ERA with a 2.08 ERA, a whole 0.92 points ahead of his teammate Lucas Gordon in second place. He now has 48 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings in the Big 12 alongside a phenomenal six earned runs in his last five starts.

“I love Lucas,” Johnson Jr. said. “He’s my locker mate, so we chat it up all the time as starters, but he pushes me to be better and I push him to be better.”

Thomas, Campbell and Kennedy each had two RBIs, and sophomore third baseman Peyton Powell also added a home run in a two-for-four performance. Campbell added three runs for the Horns alongside multiple defensive plays, including a diving catch to rob freshman DH Logan Sauve of extra bases in the seventh.

“He’s, to me, (one of) if not the best right fielder in the country,” head coach David Pierce said about Campbell. “When you have your best players as the first guys in the building, they deserve to be in this spot.”

To win the Big 12, Texas needed to sweep West Virginia and have OU take a game off of Oklahoma State. During Texas’ blowout win, Oklahoma shut out the Cowboys to give the Longhorns a chance at the title, as a three-way tie with Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia would favor Texas based on head-to-head matchups. The Longhorns now can do no worse than a three-seed in the Big 12 even with a loss tomorrow.

Texas has now scored 64 runs in their last four games dating back to last series against San Jose State and will rely on redshirt sophomore Tanner Witt’s arm for a chance at the Big 12 title on Saturday.