As hard a pill as it will be to swallow, the Longhorns won’t reach the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.
Despite boasting a Big 12-best 2.56 team ERA, Texas is 5-12 in conference play — good for last place in the Big 12. With six of their last eight regular season games against Big 12 foes, the 23-20 Longhorns could finish at or below .500 this year. Their 3.8 runs per game and 3.31 runs per game in Big 12 play are the fewest in the conference.
They won’t do it, but it’s time that fans started focusing on next year. Corey Knebel, Erich Weiss and Mark Payton might be gone, but Texas will have the pieces in place to have a solid squad in 2014. There are obvious strides to be made from a hitting standpoint. Texas’ lineup has let its outstanding starting pitching down all year long.
“I know it doesn’t look like it but we do practice, we do talk to them, we do have offensive signals,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “I’m really not that confused. I think it’s a matter of them getting their confidence and we’ve been waiting for it. And it hasn’t happened. Only in hindsight will we know if it does or doesn’t. We’re running out of time.”
But if the Longhorns can take a page out of their playbook from 35 years ago, they’ll be fine.
Three years removed from its last national championship, with 12 Southwest Conference titles in the previous 13 years, Texas came into 1978 with high expectations.
The Longhorns had won 11 straight games going into their SWC opener against Arkansas. After a pair of one-run losses to the Razorbacks to begin the series, shortstop Ron Gardenhire broke his thumb sliding into second base as Texas was trying to avoid being swept in the series finale.
“There’s no way he can play,” the team doctor said. “He’s got a broken thumb and it’s going to require surgery.”
“Let me try to finish the game,” Gardenhire told the team doctor.
There were two men on when Gardenhire stepped to the plate in the next inning.
“Now, look. You can practice swinging and if you can’t swing, sacrifice bunt,” head coach Cliff Gustafson told Gardenhire.
“I think I can swing,” Gardenhire told Gustafson.
“Ok, go ahead and swing,” Gustafson said. “But if hurts you, just bunt.”
Gardenhire launched a three-run home run. He went on to double and homer again, racking up a school-record 10 RBIs in the game. It would be his last of the season.
Texas, also without starting pitchers Ricky and Kem Wright, went on to go just 12-12 in SWC play, missing out on the conference and NCAA tournaments that year.
The Longhorns went on to win 10 consecutive SWC titles after that season, going to the College World Series eight of the next 11 years.
Texas isn’t going anywhere this year. If they were, the Longhorns would have scored more than four runs during a three-game sweep at the hands of Baylor last weekend and more than one run in a win over Prairie View A&M on Tuesday.
This season won’t be salvaged, but don’t count on Texas missing the postseason three years in a row.