AUSTIN (KXAN) — The difference between 2018 and 2019 for Texas baseball couldn’t be more stark.
From celebrating a spot in the College World Series two years ago to getting shunned out of the Big 12 tournament last year, the Longhorns shockingly finished in last place in the conference in 2019.
As the last-place team in the Big 12, Texas wasn’t even invited to the tournament in Oklahoma City. Something so astonishing for a program steeped in such tradition.
When looking back to last year’s disappointment, Texas head coach David Pierce didn’t point to just one reason for the problems. In a conversation with KXAN, he sounded like a leader ready to move on with a new team.
“It starts with me and we work down from there. Our kids are highly-motivated,” Pierce said as he avoided an obvious opportunity to make an excuse.
Texas opens the season with a three-game series at Rice starting Feb. 14. Texas hosts UT-San Antonio for its home opener Tuesday, Feb. 18.
There’s been some roster turnover making the Longhorns very talented and very young at some key positions, but Pierce believes they have enough experience to guide the younger players through the ebbs and flows of a season.
Zach Zubia is expected to anchor the first base position giving Texas an opportunity to mix and match at the designated hitter position. Zubia spent most of the 2019 season at DH which hampered Pierce’s creativity with the batting line up.
Texas again recruited well and Pierce expects a lot out of freshmen, middle infielders Trey Faltine and Brenden Dixon.
“[They] have an ‘It’ factor about them. Not going to back down from this competition,” Pierce said about his freshmen.
It also appears Pierce feels confidence in his starting rotation as the season begins. Ty Madden and Coy Cobb are expected to back-up Friday starter Bryce Elder.
Elder is on the shortlist for every kind of preseason/postseason award coming into the 2020 season.
“He gives us some comfort starting that series,” Pierce said of Elder.
Texas also made waves with some coaching hires adding former MLB All-Star Troy Tulowitzki and Longhorns legend Huston Street to the staff. Pierce is giving high-marks to both additions saying Tulowitzki brings a major league perspective that may give the Longhorns an edge on the diamond.
“He’s a unique person, a unique coach and a unique baseball mentality. I think his relevance is so good and so fresh right now,” Pierce said.
Street, a national championship winner with Texas in 2002, is helping the Texas players on the mental side of the game, according to Pierce.
It’s been a long offseason after the Longhorns’ 2019 goals were turned away so early in the season. Finally, it’s time for Pierce and his current roster to bury last year in the past and look ahead to what could be a season more in line with 2018’s results.