April 24, 2009

By Douglas Kroll

NCAA.com

 

Pitching isn’t everything in college baseball. But it sure means a whole lot. Just ask the teams that seem to make a home in Omaha every June. An established big three, or even four, in a rotation and a couple of capable relievers can be all that stand in the way of a national championship.

 

It’s just much easier said than done.

 

But for the Texas Longhorns in 2009, head coach Augie Garrido has himself just that and it’s led his team to have the best record in the Big 12 and a recent ten game win streak.

 

What had been an Achilles’ Heel for the perennial Big 12 powerhouse in 2008, is now its strength. The Lonhorns lead the country in ERA, entering this weekend’s series against Kansas State with a 2.28 mark. And for those keeping track at home, that’s over two full runs better than what they posted a season ago.

 

So what’s the biggest difference? Nothing more than a little sophomore seasoning.

 

The big starting trio of Chance Ruffin, Cole Green and Brandon Workman are all in their second years on campus in Austin and have combined for 12 wins and a 2.78 ERA. Something that any coach in America would sign for before a season.

 

And it isn’t as if the ‘Horns haven’t faced some good teams. That argument can be thrown to the side right away thanks to as many as seven Big 12 teams being ranked at one time in the NCBWA poll in recent weeks.

                                             

While this pitching staff isn’t chasing history, despite having seven members with an ERA under 3.00, every single good outing is necessary on a team that is short on power, but very big on the little things. Just look at the stats: 19 home runs (240th in the nation) entering Friday, to a second-in-the-nation 47 sacrifices.  

 

When you’re only scoring 5.3 runs per game, the need for good pitching is even greater, not to mention the need for a stopper at the back of the bullpen. Enter senior Austin Wood, who has made the successful transition from starter to closer this season. Fourteen starts and a 4.43 ERA last season, has made way for 10 saves and a 1.55 ERA in 2009.

 

And if this Longhorn staff were to keep up what they’ve been doing, they would have the best team ERA since Le Moyne’s 1.95 back in 1992.

 

With six teams within three games of their Big 12 lead and three regular season weekends to go, the ‘Horns will likely need to do just that—keep doing what they’ve been doing. And then a long-awaited return to Omaha won’t be too far behind.

 

Weekend Preview

 

No. 30 Kansas State at No. 2 Texas

Coming down the stretch of the regular season, many conferences have tight races. But none has more teams vying for the top spot than the Big 12. At 8-7 in conference play, the Wildcats sit 2.5 games back of the Longhorns as they travel to Austin for a pivotal three-game set.  K-State needs to put last weekend’s disappointment of losing two-of-three at home to Missouri behind them, especially coming so close to winning last year’s series in Manhattan against Texas. For the ‘Horns, its time to rebound after their 10 game win streak was snapped by in-state rival Rice on Tuesday night when they gave up a season-high seven runs to the Owls.

All-Time Series: Texas leads 36-8 (20-5 at Texas)

 

No. 4 Georgia at No. 11 Mississippi

The fight for the final spot in the SEC Tournament is a torrid one, as is the fight at the top for seeding. This weekend’s series in Oxford will help sort some of that out, when the SEC East leading Bulldogs take on the Rebels, who sit in second-place in the West. Georgia comes off a solid weekend showing against Arkansas, when they took two-of-three at home against the West-leading Razorbacks, but fell on Wednesday at Jacksonville State in a disappointing loss—only its ninth of the season. Ole Miss has won three games in a row, including a big series win at Florida last weekend. A series win this weekend will help them keep pace in the West, with four teams within 1.5 games of one another at the top of the division.

All-Time Series: Tied at 27-27

 

No. 8 Georgia Tech at No. 21 Clemson

These two are separated by 132 miles, but that’s close enough for a rivalry, especially one that dates back all the way to 1902. After a disappointing weekend at Virginia Tech, the Tigers will hope to get back on track in conference play this weekend when they host the streaking Yellow Jackets, winners of 6-of-7, and owners of the best record in the stacked ACC.  Clemson already has beaten two in-state rivals this week, winning mid-week games against Coastal Carolina and South Carolina in impressive fashion. Georgia Tech comes off a 10-9 loss at Western Carolina which halted a six-game win streak, as they hope to build upon a one-game Coastal Division lead they hold over North Carolina.

All-Time Series: Clemson leads 98-96-3 (41-21-1 at Clemson)