Nolan Kingham throws a pitch against Kansas State at UFCU Dish-Falk Field on March 24, 2017. Texas averaged nearly 5,000 fans at home this season but this weekend's NCAA Austin Regional has sold out. (Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Baseball

Texas sports notebook: Texas pitchers are coming off a career-best stretch

Posted March 30th, 2017

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On Wednesday, David Pierce told his baseball players that one of his words for the day was “contagious.”

In Pierce’s eyes, one player’s success can be contagious among competitive teammates. Therefore, that might be the best word to describe the recent efforts of the UT pitching staff. Texas recently posted shutouts in back-to-back conference games for the first time since 2010.

With a 3.04 ERA, Texas also ranks third in the Big 12 and 20th in the NCAA.

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“Us starting pitchers, we’re all competitive and we’re all trying to top each other’s outings and all of that,” sophomore Nolan Kingham said. “We feed off it, and we just like competing with each other.”

Nolan Kingham throws a pitch against Kansas State at UFCU Dish-Falk Field on Friday March 24, 2017. Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Having won five straight, Texas heads to Kansas this weekend for a three-game series. With the exception of this past Sunday’s 6-5 win over Kansas State, Texas has been paced by positive pitching performances during the winning streak. In fact, five pitchers established noteworthy career-highs over an eight-day span:

On Monday, Kingham earned his first-ever Big 12 pitcher of the week award.

“It was awesome and all, but we’re going to keep on moving,” said Kingham, whose 0.72 ERA leads the Big 12. Cooper sits in fourth place with a 1.63 ERA.

The Texas pitchers are in the midst of their first season working with volunteer assistant Phil Haig. Once a left-handed pitcher at Illinois and Florida International, the 28-year-old Haig spent the past five years working for Pierce at Sam Houston State and Tulane. Pierce said Haig “didn’t know anything (about coaching) when he first came to me,” but he lauded his development over the past half-decade.

Last year, Tulane threw an NCAA-best 13 shutouts. Only seven teams in the country have topped Texas’ five shutouts this spring.

“He’s been incredible for our pitching staff,” Pierce said of Haig. “He’s got a great baseball IQ, but he also has a good relationship with pitchers. Unfortunately, I have to be the hammer sometimes, but it’s the right relationship whenever … the staff is working with him.”

Bret Boswell take relay throw for a double play in a game of the Texas A&M University versus the University of Texas at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, Texas on March 14, 2017 (Andy Nietupski for AMERICAN STATESMAN)

Double trouble: Texas has turned a nation-leading 33 double plays, which is one better than San Diego State and Virginia Tech. Shortstop David Hamilton and second baseman Bret Boswell, who played shortstop last season, have been in the middle of much of the madness. Third baseman Ryan Reynolds and first baseman Kacy Clemens also have played well on the corners; Hamilton and Reynolds are freshmen.

The Longhorns have committed 16 errors, but their .985 fielding percentage ranks second nationally. Last year, Texas had a .964 fielding percentage in an 80-error season.

New Texas assistant Keri Sanchez compiled a 148-92-30 record as a head coach on the Division III level (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps athletic department).

Soccer hires Sanchez: Texas announced this week that Keri Sanchez has joined Angela Kelly’s soccer coaching staff. Sanchez spent the past 13 seasons as the head coach at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, a Division III school in California. Sanchez led the Athenas to a 148-92-30 record. At Texas, she’ll replace the recently-departed Lance Key.

“The ability to hire head coaches into our program speaks volumes as to the support and prestige of Texas and our athletic department,” Kelly said in a statement.

Texas, which won spring games against Monterrey Tech and Houston, travels to UTSA on Friday. The Longhorns were 8-9-1 in the fall.

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