This week, Texas is heading west.
Back in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year hiatus, Texas was placed by the NCAA on Monday in a regional hosted by Long Beach State. UCLA and San Diego State will also compete in the four-team regional, which will begin Friday.
Texas coach David Pierce told reporters he wasn’t shocked by the team’s draw, but a sense of surprise lingered in the Longhorns’ clubhouse as the players watched the announcement on ESPN2. The American-Statesman had speculated that Texas could end up in Long Beach, but national outlets had recently projected as possible landing spots Louisville, Ky.; Fayetteville, Ark.; and Houston.
“We definitely thought Houston or something like that, so we were a little surprised when our name popped up at Long Beach,” UT junior pitcher Morgan Cooper said. “But we’re happy to be in; we’re ready to go.”
Texas will be the second seed in the Long Beach Regional. Awaiting the Longhorns in their opener Friday at 6 p.m. Austin time will be UCLA. Texas (37-22) and UCLA (30-25) met in March, and UT swept the three-game series.
Long Beach State (37-17-1) and San Diego State (41-19) will also play Friday night. The regional will follow a double-elimination format over the weekend. The regional champion will advance to play the victor of Stanford’s regional — which also includes BYU, Cal State Fullerton and Sacramento State — in a best-of-three series. The winner of that series will qualify for the College World Series.
Texas last reached the College World Series in 2014.
“I think we’re playing our best baseball right now,” said first baseman Kacy Clemens, who was a freshman on that 2014 team. “Hopefully we can keep that going.”
San Diego State has scored 414 times this season. UCLA, Texas and Long Beach State are each averaging just over five runs per game. Patrons at Blair Field, however, should expect the pitchers and defense to hog the spotlight.
Long Beach State (3.08), Texas (3.20) and UCLA (3.49) rank eighth, ninth and 19th among the 295 NCAA Division I teams in ERA. With a .983 fielding percentage, Texas is staring up at only one team in that category. Not far below the Longhorns, though, are ninth-place UCLA (.981), 13th-place Long Beach State (.980) and 19th-place San Diego State (.979).
“The premium is pitching and defense, and Blair Field is a pitchers-friendly park,” Pierce said. “There’s a lot of things that play in our favor there.”
Texas has won six of its last nine games. In the past six seasons, Texas’ 37 wins have been surpassed only by the program’s 46 wins in 2014.
Texas is fresh off an appearance in the Big 12’s championship game. The Longhorns were beaten by Oklahoma State on Sunday, but they won three of their five games at the tournament.
“We didn’t need to win the Big 12 Tournament,” Cooper said. “It would have been nice, and obviously we’re bummed that we didn’t.
“More important things are coming up.”