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Horns Look To Fend Off Bears

Forty-four slots separate UT and Baylor in the national rankings

By Russ Espinoza, 4:16PM, Thu. May. 17, 2012

Corey Knebel
Corey Knebel
Photo courtesy of UT

The unranked and snake-bitten Longhorns baseball team (29-18, 12-8 Big 12) will close out the 2012 regular season against No. 7 Baylor at a decided disadvantage. Forty-four slots separate the Bears and Horns in the national rankings, and Texas’ starting rotation is in shambles from underachievement, injury, and unidentified insubordination.

Two of the series’ three games, however, will take place at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

In what has already been a momentous year for Baylor Athletics, Bears Baseball (40-11, 18-3 Big 12) has further buoyed a community not lacking in school pride of late. Somewhere, somewhere weird, David Koresh and Dr Pepper are whooping it up.

The formerly top-ranked Great News Bears were a 24-0 juggernaut between March 16 and April 23, but suddenly there’s trouble in fool’s paradise. What looked to be an unassuming weekend set at Oklahoma turned into a three-game wake-up call; the Bears were for the birds, losing 1-0 in 10 innings, 2-1, and 12-6.

With a 13-8 conference record, Texas shares second place in the Big 12 with Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, but the overall records and national rankings tell the real story. The Aggies are sitting pretty, the Bears even prettier, while the walking dead of Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and so on, sit peppered within the No. 51 to No. 175 range, nationally.

At No. 51, Texas’ lackluster season can be explained by a blend of erratic fielding — their 63 errors so far are 16 more than their 2011 total – a shortfall of clutch hitting, and mediocre starting pitching.

“We’ve lost eight games in conference, and six have been lost by infield play, not the pitchers,” skipper Augie Garrido was quoted as saying in The Austin American-Statesman.

As a consequence, the Longhorns are ever-receding long shots to be chosen as one of the 16 teams to host the NCAA regionals — the 2008 squad is Texas’ only team to have not played regional host in the last decade.

Worse, the Longhorns’ starting rotation — which didn’t feature a returning starter from 2011 to begin with — has incurred a demotion to the bullpen (Nathan Thornhill), a season-ending stress fracture (freshman Parker French), and the booting of freshman Ricky Jacquez (2-1, 5.79 ERA) for undisclosed disciplinary issues. Beat it, punk.

Garrido must now hang the season on a patchwork corp. of emergency starters: closer Corey Knebel, freshman Dillon Peters (3-0, 2.91 ERA), and freshman John Curtiss (2-2, 3.40 ERA). With 10 starts this year, Peters isn’t a complete greenhorn at the college level; Curtiss, however, only has two under his belt — not a very wide belt.

When did Omaha last seem this far away? Oh, duh! 2008. Man, that really was a long time ago. Karen, why did you leave me?

Knebel, though, is a gifted and battle-tested arm who pitched 55 2/3 innings over 38 games last season, and has accrued 62 2/3 innings in his 24 appearances in 2012. The sophomore from Georgetown was, after all, named college baseball’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year last season, plus All Big 12 First Team, and was a starter in high school only two years ago.

The right-hander pitched a dress rehearsal for the Baylor series on Saturday against Texas Southern (23-26) at the Disch, and he did not flare his manager’s peptic ulcer: having allowed only one hit, one walk, while netting six strikeouts through 79 pitches. The Longhorns took that game, 3-1, and the next — walloping the Tigers, 12-3.

It’s no coincidence that both the Longhorns and the Big 12 as a whole have regressed this season. Historically, Texas has been the pride of the conference, a role that Baylor and, to a lesser extent, No. 17 Texas A&M (38-14, 13-8 Big 12) have commandeered this year. The conference will enter the 2012 Corporate Sponsorship Big 12 Championship in Oklahoma City on May 23 with the proverbial walker, trick knee, and bathrobe.

Vs. Baylor: Fri., May 18, 6:30pm; Sat., May 19, 2pm. UFCU Disch-Falk Field, 1300 E. MLK. $12, reserved; $7, adults; $5, youth. www.texassports.com.

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