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No. 2 Texas, newcomer Skyler Messinger surging with Big 12 baseball opener on deck

Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman
Texas third baseman Skyler Messinger throws out a runner during the Longhorns' 1-0 win over Alabama on Feb 25. An all-conference player last year at Kansas, Messinger transferred to Texas in large part because of its championship prospects this season.

Skyler Messinger concedes this feels a little different.

On Friday night, the Texas baseball team will open a three-game series at Texas Tech, the start of Big 12 play for the No. 2 Longhorns (18-5) and 16th-ranked Red Raiders (18-4).

For Messinger, this will be the fourth time he’s chased a Big 12 championship. The previous three happened at Kansas, though. The Jayhawks finished eighth in the Big 12 in 2018, fifth in 2019 and last in 2021.

This year, Messinger is starting at third base for a Texas team with lofty expectations. The Longhorns, who shared last year’s regular-season championship with TCU, were picked as the favorites in the Big 12 preseason poll.

"It's a little different being that it's sort of not the underdog," Messinger said. "It's definitely a different mindset, but we're ready to go."

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Messinger is hitting .315 with 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored. He has yet to commit an error. And over the past five games, he's been on an offensive tear. After scoring eight runs and going 13-for-21 against the Citadel, Incarnate World and Central Arkansas, he has improved his average 123 points.

But back on March 15, he went 1-for-5 against the College of Charleston and saw his average hovering at .192. That game also capped a seven-game stretch in which he struck out 15 times.

Messinger didn't think he was pressing at the plate but added that "you want to come in especially as a new guy on the team and contribute, and it's tough to not do that."

Texas seemed like a natural destination last year when Skyler Messinger was looking for a place to transfer from Kansas. "First and foremost, I wanted to come somewhere where I could play in Omaha and have the chance to play for a national title," he said. "No better place in the country to do that than here."

On Wednesday, Texas coach David Pierce and Longhorns pitcher Pete Hansen compared Messinger’s season to Mike Antico’s 2021 campaign. Antico joined the Longhorns as a graduate transfer from St. John’s and immediately took over in center field.

About a month into the 2021 season, Antico was struggling at the plate. He went 4-for-26 over a 10-game window. Pierce stuck with him, though, and the eventual eighth-round MLB draft pick wound up hitting .273, leading the nation in walks and the Longhorns in stolen bases.

"I think (Messinger) was a lot like Mike Antico coming in, where he felt like he needed to produce right away to be accepted," Pierce said. "As he struggled through the season, up to the last week, his character has shown to be really strong, and I think that's why you're starting to see him come out of it."

An all-conference honoree in 2021, Messinger wasn’t that fond of the Longhorns during his time at Kansas — “I'm not going to say that we liked Texas when I was there,” he said wryly this week. But when he decided to move on, his Colorado roots and UT’s championship pedigree led him to Austin.

A Colorado native, Messinger is a Rockies fan who grew up rooting for players such as Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. A younger Messinger also tried to model his game after Troy Tulowitzki, the former All-Star who has been a volunteer assistant at Texas since 2020.

In addition to getting an opportunity to morph from Tulowitzki’s fan to Tulowitzki’s pupil, Messinger wanted to contend for a championship. Kansas hasn't made the NCAA Tournament since 2014.

"First and foremost, I wanted to come somewhere where I could play in Omaha and have the chance to play for a national title," Messinger said. "No better place in the country to do that than here."

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The Longhorns have won their last five games by a combined score of 66-10. The recent string of wins has probably prevented anyone from hitting a premature panic button at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. During a 10-day swoon earlier this month, UT dropped five games to UCLA, Texas State, South Carolina and the College of Charleston.

"We're going go through tough times, but it's all about how you respond," Hansen said. "I think we did a really good job of getting right back on the horse and staying competitive and taking it to the other team."