'It's the best time of the year': Texas earns No. 2 national seed in NCAA baseball tourney
Accompanied by Sun Devils, Stags and Jaguars, NCAA postseason baseball is returning to UFCU Disch-Falk Field this week.
Texas was awarded the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament on Monday. Arizona State (32-20), Fairfield (37-3) and Southern (20-28) will join the Longhorns (42-15) for the Austin Regional that begins Friday.
Texas and Southern are set to play at 1 p.m. Friday while Fairfield and Arizona State will go at 6 p.m.
"It's the best time of the year," Texas pitcher Tristan Stevens said. "We've waited two years for this opportunity and so we're ready to get going."
The Longhorns won a share of the Big 12 regular season championship this season and then went 2-2 at the conference tournament. Only four Big 12 teams were selected for the NCAA Tournament, though Texas, TCU and Texas Tech all earned top-eight seeds.
The Longhorns have been led this season by their pitching. Nationally, Texas ranks second in ERA (2.95) and fourth in WHIP (1.15).
Offensively, Texas is scoring 6.6 runs per game. That average is bested by five Big 12 teams and 66 programs nationally. But among the teams in the Austin Regional, only Fairfield (6.9 runs) is scoring at a better clip.
"We seem like a team that we're never really fazed by adversity," Stevens said. "We know what we bring to the table. The best thing I like about this team is that we can win in multiple ways, whether it's pitching, defense or timely hitting."
Much like it did in 2018, the NCAA is sending the SWAC's champion to Austin. Southern went just 13-11 in SWAC play, but the Jaguars rallied and a three-run ninth inning lifted them to a 7-6 win over Jackson State in the conference championship game on May 23.
This spring, Southern was outscored 41-4 in three games it played against Mississippi State and LSU.
The only Division I team with a better ERA than Texas? Fairfield, which has a 2.75 mark. At one point this season, Fairfield and Texas also boasted the two longest active winning streaks in the country.
Fairfield was upset in the MAAC Tournament. However, the NCAA's selection committee still rewarded the Stags for their top-tier RPI. Before Monday, a MAAC program had never received an at-large bid to the NCAAs.
Arizona State is one of a half-dozen Pac-12 teams that made it. Batting .340 with 16 homers, Ethan Long has one of the most-feared bats in his conference. Arizona State has also turned a nation-leading 57 double plays in 2021.
"You take a look at each team and kind of see how everything lays out," Texas coach David Pierce said. "See how we want to approach not only game one but how we want to approach the best way to win the tournament."
Texas did not qualify for the NCAA Tournament in 2019. The NCAA canceled last year's postseason because of the pandemic.
So Disch-Falk has been waiting to host an NCAA Tournament game since Texas beat Tennessee Tech in the decisive game of a super regional on June 11, 2018. Five Longhorns — Stevens, DJ Petrinsky, Cole Quintanilla, Austin Todd and Zach Zubia — were on that 2018 team. Only Zubia and Petrinsky played in the 5-2 win.
For much of this season, Texas has operated with limited capacity at athletic events. Those restrictions were completely lifted over the final week of the regular season. Texas has yet to play a home game in front of an announced crowd of more than 3,164.
The capacity at Disch-Falk is 7,373. The Longhorns are hopeful that the stands will be full again this week. During the 2018 postseason, Texas drew at least 6,850 fans for all six of its regional and super regional games.
"Who's not excited for a rockin' Disch-Falk," Zubia said. "I hope that the whole city of Austin's at our games."
The winner of the Austin Regional will advance to face the last team standing in Florida's regional. The No. 15 Gators (38-20) will host Miami (32-19), South Alabama (33-20) and South Florida (28-27).