Texas baseball players stand for "The Eyes of Texas" after the UT Alumni Game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Feb. 3, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Baseball

Newest Longhorns to help Texas baseball chase an old goal in 2018

Posted February 15th, 2018

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DJ Petrinsky wouldn’t describe the cable package in the home clubhouse at Hill College as expansive.

Petrinsky spent his freshman and sophomore years at the junior college in Hillsboro. On Wednesday, he recalled the team’s television picked up only a few channels. One of them, however, was the Longhorn Network so Petrinsky was able to occasionally watch Texas baseball games.

This spring, Petrinsky’s former teammates will get to catch his games at Texas. The junior catcher is one of 20 newcomers for the Longhorns.

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“Everybody just kind of welcomes you,” said Petrinsky, who hit a home run in Texas’ alumni game on Feb. 3. “Great team full of great guys, a lot of fun personalities. It’s a lot of fun.”

UT retained 17 players from a team that went 39-24 and reached the Long Beach State regional in 2017. Ten players transferred in from other schools or a junior college. Another 10 members of the new-look Longhorns can be classified as true freshmen.

Texas coach David Pierce listed pitchers Nico O’Donnell and Bryce Elder among the freshmen who could contribute this season. Sam Bertelson, a potential designated hitter, was described by Pierce as “probably the strongest kid on our team.” Kamron Fields might find playing time as either a pitcher or outfielder.

Texas head coach David Pierce, right, talks to Duke Ellis, left, and David Hamilton after UT’s alumni game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Feb. 3, 2018. Ellis played at Panola College last year. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Additionally, Texas will look for an immediate impact from its veteran newcomers. Petrinsky is battling Michael McCann for playing time at catcher, while ex-Panola College standout Duke Ellis could be UT’s center fielder. After playing at Cuesta College in 2017, Bryce Verplank is expected to be a key member of Texas’ bullpen. Masen Hibbeler, who spent the last two seasons at Odessa College, will replace Bret Boswell at second base and hit in the top half of UT’s lineup.

“Usually when you bring in JC (junior college) guys, those guys need to play for you immediately. They’re filling in some blanks,” Pierce said. “Anytime you bring in JC kids, you want to be able to utilize them right away. Quite frankly, they probably were a bust if they’re not helping us and contributing right away.”

The new editions have blended with those who previously worn burnt orange. As cliché as it sounds, the Longhorns are insisting that the team chemistry is as good — if not better — than past years.

Of course, memorizing 20 new names isn’t easy. Senior Jake McKenzie and junior Josh Sawyer, who are respectively studying petroleum engineering and finance at Texas, were the brains behind the setup of the team’s new group text. Players also got together to eat pizza and watch the Mayweather-McGregor fight in August, and reliever Beau Ridgeway surmised “from then on, we just kind of took off.”

“I feel like we’re a lot alike. It’s baseball players, we always have something in common,” Petrinsky said. “Bringing in 10 JUCO guys and meshing them with the returners, you wouldn’t think it’d be like it is. We just get along well, I’m not sure why.”

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The Longhorns will look to bond over wins this season. UT made a 14-win improvement in Pierce’s first year but was upended in the final of Long Beach State’s regional. Ranked in numerous preseason polls, Texas is picked to finish third in the Big 12.

Texas begins this season with three home games this weekend against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns went 35-21-1 in 2017, although ULL is one of the few teams on Texas’ schedule that didn’t reach last year’s NCAA tournament; 30 of Texas’ 53 games are against programs that reached the postseason, and UT must play seven games against 2017 College World Series qualifiers LSU, TCU and Texas A&M.

“I love competition, I hope my team does too. I’m sure they do,” sophomore shortstop David Hamilton said. “It makes for a good RPI once we get later in the season.”

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