Horns Baseball Year-End Wrap-Up
'Two and Barbecue'
By Russ Espinoza, 4:53PM, Fri. Jun. 24, 2011
The rash of editorializing by fans and media in the days following Texas’ feeble "Two and Barbecue" elimination from the College World Series in Omaha this week has split into two schools of thought.
The first camp (consisting of the Statesman’s Kirk Bohls and Longhorn play-by-play man Craig Way) argue that the 2011 Longhorns should be credited and remembered for overachieving given their seasonlong offensive handicap. While the media has largely been kind and upbeat in their appraisals, fan reaction has been mixed, yet still featuring the typical heckling and vitriol that fume out of Internet message boards following a team’s championship-less campaign. Whose estimation is on target: The paid professionals with their polished deliveries and intimate familiarity with Texas athletics, or the faceless, caps-lock-happy yahoos of the Internet?
The Longhorns began their 2011 tour as the preseason No. 7 in the country and ended it with staff ace Taylor Jungmann being awarded the Dick Howser Trophy – honoring college baseball’s Player of the Year – and with freshman closer Corey Knebel receiving recognition as "Stopper of the Year." Consider that the Longhorns were the first to be eliminated in the CWS’ eight-team field and that Jungmann (the nation’s MVP) incurred his third straight loss in Game 1 of series action against the No. 2 seed Florida Gators. The evening’s 8-4 UT loss was likely the junior right-hander’s final start as a Texas Longhorn; Jungmann faltered and turned in his shortest start of the season (at the most in opportune time), allowing four earned runs over 75 pitches before being pulled after 4.1 innings. Jungmann and game two starter Cole Green survived only 6.1 innings total over the Florida and North Carolina contests and yielded a combined seven runs on eight hits, for a whopping and unprecedented 8.57 ERA. Ironically, the obnoxious, boisterous denizens of the message board milieu – though a threat to themselves and society at large – are dead-on when they shriek and foam about the season being a disappointment.
Granted, in a field of 300-plus teams across the nation vying for only eight postseason slots, advancing to the College World Series is a feat worth celebrating — even for the sport’s "Evil Empire." But insofar as the Longhorn’s winning tradition and proud legacy make them the collegiate version of the New York Yankees, the consensus verdict we reach as fans and professionals in a season’s aftermath must be predicated on postseason performance. Every proud and historically rich program or professional franchise — the Lakers, Steelers, and Red Wings, for example — are all subject to the same principle. The teary-eyed crowd applauding the Longhorns for "overachieving" neglects to remember that Texas was neither overlooked nor marginalized in the preseason Top 30: they were ranked seventh. They didn’t sneak up on anybody. They didn’t take the field on February 18 against Maryland as the Bad News Bears.
Never mind how Texas’ lackluster offense soured into an abysmal showing in Omaha. Assigning majority blame to the offense conveniently takes the heat off of Texas’ poor starting pitching in the CWS: particularly NCAA MVP Taylor Jungmann, whose job it was to overpower and arrest the Gators, or at least keep victory within reach for his emasculated offense. He did neither. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
With an inside track by virtue of their high preseason ranking, the most accomplished manager in NCAA Division I history, college baseball’s Player of the Year (Jungmann), and the sport’s best closer (Knebel), the Longhorns had enough surplus in key positions (including freshman Erich Weiss at third base) to compensate for their offensive deficiencies. Only if the Longhorns had gone on to win their seventh National Championship — and their first since 2005 — could the "overachieving" argument hold water. But every dimension of their game short of middle-relief failed Texas on the national stage: their offense reached a new low, their base-running (a rare occurrence) was undisciplined, and the starting pitching imploded in the most alarming fashion conceivable given their track record.
Texas’ 2011 epitaph couldn’t read any folksier if Sarah Palin chiseled the headstone lettering herself: it’s “Two and Barbecue.”