Horns back on winning track
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas rolled through its conference schedule, winning the Big 12 by seven games and ripping off 21 consecutive victories at one point in the season.
The Longhorns' 24-3 conference record earned them college baseball's No. 1 ranking and virtual sure-thing status heading into the Big 12 tournament in Oklahoma City in the final week of May. A streak-ending hiccup did little to change that after Texas reeled off seven consecutive wins (five straight in the Big 12) to finish the regular season.
Of course, "Oklahoma," as the coaches and players referred to the tournament a week later, put a stop to the Longhorns' status as national title front-runners.
Three losses, including two to non-tournament teams Missouri and Texas Tech, had Texas sputtering into its regional last weekend.
"We had lots of questions about that. There was some doubt as a result of it," said Texas coach Augie Garrido. "But I think it helped us."
Garrido isn't searching for evidence of it. Texas swept its Austin Regional, never trailed, allowing just three runs all weekend to set up a rematch of last season's super regional in Austin against TCU.
"Every practice was good. Everything we did was good. Everything was together all week. Everybody made a best effort in everything we did. And it showed up," he said.
Even if the buzzards seemed to be eyeing Texas' season earlier than usual outside the clubhouse.
"I don't think we worried about it at all. It really wasn't anything. We forgot it as soon as we left," said pitcher Taylor Jungmann, of "Oklahoma."
Jungmann bounced back by pitching a dominating two-hitter before an eighth-inning exit in the Horns' regional-clinching win over Rice on Sunday.
"What you're seeing is a team [that] when it is focused understands the importance of winning and how they perform together as a total team effort," Garrido said.
Texas shut out Rider 11-0 in the regional opener before getting a clutch eighth-inning effort from closer Chance Ruffin, who struck out the game's final five batters to beat Louisiana-Lafayette 4-2. The Horns' ticket back, well, home, and to the super regionals, was punched with a 4-1 win over Rice. "I think you see the real Longhorn team in this environment, because there's so much to play for," Garrido said.
I think you see the real Longhorn team in this environment, because there's so much to play for.” -- Texas coach Augie Garrido, on his team's sweep in last weekend's regional round
A second consecutive College World Series berth will be on the line this weekend against a team perhaps worthy of hosting its own regional. TCU is ranked No. 6 in the latest USA Today/ESPN top 25 coaches' poll but was not granted a national seed by the NCAA selection committee.
The Horned Frogs will bring a pitching staff that rivals the Longhorns, a rarity.
Freshman Matt Purke was drafted in last year's first round by the Texas Rangers. Since coming to TCU, he has compiled a 13-0 record, a 3.40 ERA and a .226 opponents' batting average. Two other starters, Steven Maxwell and Kyle Winkler, combine to give the Horned Frogs' rotation a combined 35-2 record.
Stages get only slightly bigger than this weekend's, and Garrido is ready for his Longhorns to step up once again and prove him right.
David Ubben covers college sports for ESPN.com.
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