If offense wins games and defense wins championships, where does this Texas team fit in?
Texas doesn’t rank in the top five of any major hitting statistic in the Big 12, yet the Longhorns are tied for first in the conference with a 9-3 record. Head coach Augie Garrido said his team is built on pitching, and he has one of the best pitching staffs in the country.
So how concerned should he be with a team that only hits .266?
“The numbers would give everyone a reason to doubt this team, but the numbers don’t always speak to how people can perform, and people can perform differently on any given day,” Garrido said. “I have confidence in this team’s ability to score enough runs when it’s matched up against the kind of pitching we have and the defense we have, and give us the ability to win games.”
That’s just what they’ve been doing. Texas came within two stranded runners of sweeping Baylor last weekend, after clobbering Missouri in three games the weekend before. The Longhorns have hit .321 the past two weekends, raising their team batting average in conference from .210 to .261.
“I think we’re all taking more quality at-bats,” said catcher Jacob Felts. “We’re looking for our pitches and not taking their pitches and being patient.”
The Longhorns will tell you this is all in response to their first series loss of the season against Oklahoma State. Texas hit .201 that weekend and only managed five runs in three games.
Texas has been on a tear offensively since that series in Stillwater, putting up 6.5 runs per game during an 8-0 stretch.
Garrido attributes his team’s recent success at the plate to the players feeling more comfortable and fielding a lineup that has fewer bad at bats.
“The players are trusting each other to make productive outs,” he said. “They’re sustaining rallies better, hitting with runners in scoring position, getting two out hits — the pressure is coming off and that makes it easier for everybody.”
Tant Shepherd certainly isn’t feeling any pressure at the plate. The senior, who was drafted last summer but decided to play one more year at Texas, hit .478 the last two weekends and increased his average to .308 for the season.
“We’re hitting the ball a lot better and he’s a big reason for that. Hitting is a little bit contagious, and he’s one of the leaders on this team, and there is a little bit of follow the leader in this game,” Garrido said. “He’s been a very positive influence on everyone in the batting order — every one person who does something like that takes one or two others with him and makes them better.”
Shepherd is tied for the team lead in RBIs with 21 and leads the team with two home runs, one-third of the Longhorns’ total.
“The home run isn’t going to be there like it was last year,” Shepherd said. “Overall, size-wise, we’re a lot smaller than we were last year. The approach to hit the ball the opposite way has to come into effect, and that’s what we’ve been working on.”
To compare, Oklahoma leads the Big 12 with 28 home runs, while Texas is dead last with six. Texas’ .266 batting average is seventh best in the conference, but its 2.49 ERA is third.
“A lot of people doubt our hitting, but our pitchers are the one [group of] people that don’t,” Shepherd said. “They know that we’re going to come through when we need to for them. Our timely hitting has been there and, the way this conference works, right in the middle of the season is where everyone wants to be on a high note.”