Texas and South Florida get ready for a Super Regional meet and greet
Years ago, South Florida wanted Cam Williams to become a Bull.
Williams grew up in the Tampa area and was once offered a scholarship by the local university. Williams, though, opted to play college baseball in the Lone Star State — first at Dallas Baptist and San Jacinto College and then at Texas for the past two seasons.
This weekend, all that stands between Texas and the College World Series is Williams' hometown team. The Longhorns (45-15) and Bulls (31-28) face off in a best-of-three super regional series that begins Saturday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
"If they want to bring it on, let's bring it on," said Williams, a third baseman who has hammered 10 home runs this season.
Texas joins Arizona, Arkansas and LSU as the only schools to send both its baseball and softball teams to this year's super regionals. But this week, UT coach David Pierce is facing a different challenge than Mike White, his colleague in the softball program's dugout.
Two weeks ago, the Longhorns softball team battled Oklahoma State in a super regional that went three games. But before that series in Stillwater had even begun, Texas and Oklahoma State had already faced each other four times this season. White noted ahead of the series that "there's no secrets" between the Big 12 foes.
On the other hand, the baseball teams at Texas and South Florida have never played before.
Now, there are ties between the two schools. The Longhorns and Bulls have common opponents this season in Texas Tech and Houston. South Florida was outscored 49-26 while losing five of the seven games it played against those two schools. Texas managed a 3-3 mark and a 28-19 advantage on the scoreboard.
Pierce went 5-1 against South Florida while he was the head coach at conference rival Tulane from 2015-16. And when USF coach Billy Mohl pitched at Tulane, his Green Wave team was beaten by Texas in the 2005 College World Series.
The series also features two starters — UT outfielder Eric Kennedy and USF utility player Roberto Peña — who once battled for state supremacy in Florida. Kennedy attended Calvary Christian High in Clearwater, while Peña played at Calvary Christian in Fort Lauderdale. In 2018, Peña's Calvary Christian beat Kennedy's Calvary Christian for the state's Class 4A championship.
Those run-ins, however, can be filed away as fun facts. They aren't scouting reports. So, how exactly do you prepare for a team that you know so little about? In a radio interview this week, Mohl said the Bulls were more focused on themselves.
"It's the same conversation we had when we went into last weekend. It's like, you guys go play your brand of baseball," Mohl said. "There's no pressure, it's just another game."
South Florida is the 27th team that Texas has played this season. On Friday, Pierce insisted that the Longhorns have taken the same approach to scouting the Bulls as they did with the other 26 programs.
That meant UT pitching coach Sean Allen scouted the South Florida offense. Assistant coaches Philip Miller and Troy Tulowitzki analyzed the Bulls' pitching. Since Texas hasn't played since Sunday, there was plenty of time for players to watch film.
"We don't change a lot. We don't change anything," Pierce said. "South Florida is the next team we play. I would be really disappointed if all of a sudden we became super scouts this week, but we weren't doing that in March, April."
South Florida entered the month of May with a 16-20 record. The Bulls, though, have won nine of their last 11 games. Three of those were recorded against ranked East Carolina and Florida teams.
In the postseason, South Florida was the sixth seed but the last team standing at the American Athletic Conference tournament. It then won the Gainesville Regional as a No. 4 seed.
Pierce noted that like Texas, USF has become comfortable with the pitchers it wants to start and use in relief. While Pierce doesn't think that South Florida will run a lot on Texas, he said the Bulls are being aggressive with their swings.
"You piece that together with the team that has nothing to lose and playing with a lot of confidence and you've got a tough super regional," Pierce said.
While South Florida has never before reached this stage of the NCAA Tournament, Texas is 19-7 all-time in super regional games. If victorious this weekend, Texas will book its 37th trip to the College World Series.
The second overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, Texas went 3-0 at its regional last week. The Longhorns beat Southern, Arizona State and Fairfield by a combined score of 33-5.
After it secured its regional with a 12-2 beatdown of Fairfield on Sunday, pitcher Pete Hansen said the Longhorns were ready to prove that they are "the No. 1 team in the nation." When asked about Hansen's postgame confidence five days later, Williams and catcher Silas Ardoin backed their pitcher.
"I think Pete hit the hammer on the nail," Ardoin said. "If we don't believe that we're the No. 1 team in the country, then we won't be."
Said Williams: "For him to come out and say that to (the media) where you guys can hear that, I like that. Let's go work hard to make sure I can back my man up."