the score

UT Baseball Enters Big 12 Championship

After battling Aggies for regular-season title

By Russ Espinoza, 4:08PM, Wed. May. 25, 2011

Texas ace Taylor Jungmann
Texas ace Taylor Jungmann
Photo courtesy of UT

In a memorably inane dispute and stalemate involving a girl’s bicycle on Seinfeld, harebrained litigants Elaine Benes and Cosmo Kramer appealed to an “impartial mediator” to rule on its rightful ownership:

the sage, judicious, and litigious Newman – aka “Someone who is unencumbered by any emotional attachment. Someone whose heart is so dark it cannot be swayed by pity, compassion, or human emotion of any kind.”

Similarly, a question of outright ownership of the Big 12 Conference regular-season title divides the No. 11 Texas Longhorns and the No. 10 Texas A&M Aggies. But unlike Newman’s decoy verdict to “cut the bike in half,” the bitter Big 12 south foes will be forever deadlocked in 2011 thanks to the outcome of last week’s Contrived Corporate Sponsorship Lone Star Showdown and their identical 19-10 conference records.

The Aggies narrowly held the inside track on the conference title entering a critical May 19-21 home-and-home series with the Longhorns that kicked off on Thursday night in College Station. Desperate for a victory to pull even at No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference standings, Texas crashed the enemy diamond armed with Teflon ace Taylor Jungmann (12-0): the junior prodigy spun a familiar, gritty complete-game performance of 12 strikeouts (a season high) and two earned runs on seven hits that enabled the Longhorn offense to lay in wait and ultimately wrest the lead in the seventh inning through a combination of small ball and a fortunate Aggie error at third base that scored two Longhorns on the play. Texas would plate an additional run in the ninth and win, 4-2. Jungmann and junior shortstop Brandon Loy thrived in what was each team’s most important game of the season. Loy starred for the Texas offense, going 3-4 with two runs scored on the evening.

The series’ transition to Austin on Friday night recycled that urgent, “most important game of the season” character. Once again, another tight game between the nation’s elite teams turned in UT’s offensive half of the seventh inning: with the score tied 4-4, OF Paul Montalbano’s one-out RBI single with runners at the corners delivered the go-ahead run following a 90-minute rain delay at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Longhorn bullpen arms Hoby Milner and Corey Knebel combined for 3.1 innings in scoreless relief of a serviceable outing by starter Cole Green – four runs, seven hits, one walk, and seven strikeouts over 5.2 innings in a no-decision. With the win, Texas surpassed the Aggies in the standings and guaranteed themselves a share of the Big 12 Conference regular-season title and the No. 1 seed (as reward for winning the season series against A&M) in the Another Contrived Corporate Sponsorship Big 12 Championship Tournament.

Sole possession of the Big 12 regular-season title would’ve belonged to the 2011 Longhorns (40-13, 19-10 Big 12) had they been able to finish off Texas A&M (38-20, 19-10 Big 12) in the regular season finale at The Disch on Saturday afternoon, in what was, truly, the most important game of the season … for the Aggies, in particular. Instead, A&M’s 3-0 victory squared their conference record with Texas’ and spelled a co-championship that just can’t be Newman-d out of, resolved in a tie-breaker game, or sucked into heaven at 6pm sharp.

Alpha-male teams like No. 11 Texas and No. 10 Texas A&M earned their regular season success with superior pitching, composure under pressure, well-roundedness, and overall consistency (evidenced by Texas’ avoidance of a true losing streak and their 15-5 mark in one-run and extra-inning games). But as a legitimate candidate for the Dick Howser Trophy (the Heisman of College Baseball), staff ace Taylor Jungmann is Texas’ runaway MVP and greatest asset. His clean 12-0 record was accomplished with the nation’s second-lowest ERA (0.86), four complete games, and a blistering 109/23 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 113.2 innings pitched. Freshman third baseman Erich Weiss spearheaded UT’s offensive attack from the heart of the lineup: registering a .370 batting average, 39 runs scored, a .566 slugging percentage, and a .509 on-base percentage over all 53 regular season games. Weiss’ leadership in most offensive categories for the high-profile Longhorns should net the third-baseman genuine consideration for Baseball America’s Freshman of the Year honors.

In the 2011 regular season, the Longhorns (40-13 overall) went 30-7 at home and 10-6 on the road: with a 281/147 runs scored versus runs allowed ratio; their longest winning streak was seven games, and they never lost more than two in a row; Texas finished 28-10 against right-handed starters versus 12-3 against left-handed starters; in close games, UT finished 10-4 in one-run games and 5-1 in extra-inning contests; they finished 21-1 in night games versus 19-12 in day games.

The rich, storied legacy of Texas baseball tends to obscure recent postseason disappointments: the Longhorns did not advance to the College World Series in 2010, and this year’s team will endeavor to visit Omaha for only the second time since 2005 (their last appearance came in 2009 when they advanced to the Championship Round and lost to LSU in three games). As the memory of 2005’s National Championship team shrinks deeper into the past, head coach Augie Garrido’s Longhorns hope to harness their considerable talent and redeem the program’s postseason letdowns of the recent past. The first leg of a potential 2011 reprise of past National Championships (1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002, and 2005) began on Wednesday May 25 with UT dropping their first game against Missouri 6-4 in the Another Contrived Corporate Sponsorship Big 12 Championship Tournament in Oklahoma City.

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