Pitching Propels Longhorns

Jungmann leads the charge

UT pitcher Sam Stafford
UT pitcher Sam Stafford (Photo courtesy of UT)

Despite an unpredictable, inconsistent offense that has yet to strike a rhythm, UT has benefited from a friendly first-half schedule layered with mediocrity, and a top-flight pitching staff — headlined by ace Taylor Jungmann (sporting a .068 ERA), and featuring counterparts junior Sam Stafford and senior Cole Green.

With 2011’s nonconference schedule buried in the past, Texas will face healthier competition on the horizon against Big 12 adversaries Baylor, No. 6 Texas A&M (19-5) — who lead the nation in team ERA (1.56) — and No. 7 Oklahoma (19-6). UT aced its first conference series in a home sweep vs. unranked Kansas State on March 18-20.

At No. 8 in the Top 30, Texas’ 21-7 midseason record is rather vague, as only three of the team's first 25 regular season games of 2011 have come against a ranked opponent — the Longhorns bested the No. 19 Stanford Cardinal, 2-1, in a three-game series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on March 4-6. Plus, Texas had only played three road games prior to its recent March 25-27 series in Stillwater, Okla., versus Oklahoma State (19-6, 3-3 Big 12), and surfaced having dropped the three-game series to the Cowboys, 1-2, in a tight weekend of games differentiated by OSU’s overpowering charge in the series finale: a shock-and-awe seven-run seventh inning for a 10-3 Cowboy victory.

Oklahoma State had simultaneously snapped Texas’ seven-game winning streak and saddled UT with its first conference loss of the season the previous day, when Cowboy starter Brad Propst (4-1) muted the Longhorn bats en route to an impressive complete-game victory (having given up only one run on six hits, while striking out nine over 9 innings). Sophomore Longhorn pitcher Hoby Milner (2-1) was the scapegoat on paper, but his line for the day of one earned run, five hits, one walk, and two strikeouts was rendered insufficient by a frustrated Texas offense that was handcuffed at the plate all series long.

The Longhorns’ most remarkable win of the season came in the form of a classic, enduring pitcher’s duel over 15 suspenseful innings that peaked with UT freshman outfielder Mark Payton’s daring steal of home — reminiscent of Benny “The Jet” Rodriguez in The Sandlot – off OSU reliever Chris Marlowe in the top of the 15th; giving Texas a 1-0 lead that freshman closer Corey Knebel would uphold in the inning's bottom half. Manager Augie Garrido’s gamble to steal home with a 0-0 score must’ve struck the veteran manager as being the epitome of practicality, as OSU pitchers had struck out a whopping 21 Longhorns up to that point.

Nationwide, the statistical offensive categories of total bases, doubles, hits, home runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage do not include a single Texas Longhorn in their Top 50. But freshman outfielder Erich Weiss currently ranks 15th in the country in on-base percentage (.533), is tied for eighth in triples with a slew of others (4), and leads the team in on-base percentage, triples, batting average (.375), walks (25), and has a team-best 18 RBIs.

Weiss – only a freshman – has put up gaudy numbers for all his inexperience at the college level; and Jungmann (6-0) labored to maintain his spotless record at the Disch on Friday night (4.1) by limiting the Missouri Tigers to three earned runs on four hits and three strikeouts. It took a small-ball Longhorn rally in the fifth and sixth to overcome an early 4-0 deficit to rescue their ace. The performance was a homely one by Jungmann’s lofty standards, but the junior right-hander improved to 15-0 in his career at home – Texas is also 22-0 in Austin when Jungmann starts.

The Missouri Tigers went the way of the Kansas State Wildcats in their latest series in Austin — incurring a three-game series sweep by the Longhorns, whose finale on Sunday afternoon saw Texas bat-around in a lopsided 10-1 rout.

Texas hits the road for a lone contest at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi – who stole the season’s previous meeting in Austin, 8-7, on February 22 – then will play a two-game miniseries at Baylor on April 8-9 before returning home for a six-game homestand on the 10th.

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