In what will be both a marquee matchup and an early-season barometer, Texas hosts a second-ranked LSU team that just put a “17” on the scoreboard for the third time this season.
This, by the way, is not a preview for a football game. Check back in September for that one. The Tigers’ baseball team will be in town for three games this weekend; LSU ranks fourth nationally in both batting average (.346) and scoring (11.5 runs per game).
With those LSU bats now in the on-deck circle, questions must be asked about the defense being played at Texas. Through 10 games, the Longhorns’ .964 fielding percentage is the second-worst in the Big 12. In a 10-7 loss to UTSA on Wednesday, Texas committed four errors and had three additional miscues that weren’t credited as errors but still led to Roadrunner runs.
“I hope it doesn’t snowball,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “We need to be tougher than that and just go out and play and trust your skills and your instinct. That’s what we need to do. It’s that simple. Then we’re going to find out if we’re good enough.”
Last season, Texas ranked 21st nationally with a .978 fielding percentage. And no team turned more double plays. But All-American second baseman Kody Clemens was drafted, first baseman Jake McKenzie graduated and shortstop David Hamilton saw this season end with a ruptured Achilles. Hamilton has been replaced with freshman Bryce Reagan and catcher DJ Petrinsky has found playing time at first base while rehabbing an ailing shoulder. Neither freshman Lance Ford nor senior Masen Hibbeler has claimed the job at second base yet.
Texas doesn’t need to worry about who’s starting at third, though. Junior Ryan Reynolds has been a mainstay on Texas’ hot corner since he arrived on campus.
Earlier this week, Pierce referred to him as “the best in the country.” He has compared Reynolds’ instincts to Anthony Rendon, the major leaguer that he coached at Rice. Reynolds also is leading the team in hitting, batting .389.
Reynolds has committed two errors this season, but his highs have been more noticeable than any lows. Last weekend against Purdue, he twice imitated Willie Mays as he ran down balls in foul territory. He also gunned down a Boilermaker after a bunt attempt.
“I can’t say enough about Ryan’s defense, honestly,” UT pitcher Matt Whelan said. “He’s special, defensively.”
Reynolds has a .958 fielding percentage over 378 chances (148 putouts, 214 assists, 16 errors) during his collegiate career. Search Reynolds’ name on Twitter and you’ll find videos of him making diving stops against TCU, Texas State and New Orleans. Last season, his charging play on a slow-rolling grounder preserved UT’s late lead over Indiana in a regional-clinching victory.
The lead clip on Reynolds’ highlight reel remains a play against Long Beach State in the 2017 NCAA tournament. With the score tied in the bottom of the 10th, his bare-handed relay throw from the outfield threw out a runner at the plate. Texas went on to record a 5-3 win.
“You knew I was going to say that (play),” Pierce quipped when asked to list Reynolds’ top defensive moment.
A back injury kept Reynolds off the field during UT’s fall schedule, and he served as a coach during the Orange-White World Series. During his time off, he said he discovered a different perspective and reignited passion. He also dropped 25 pounds during the off-season.
“Don’t do the Double Stuf Oreos (anymore). Cut those out,” Reynolds said.
Texas (7-3) is ranked 22nd in a D1Baseball poll that No. 2 LSU (8-0) trails only Vanderbilt. The Longhorns expect to keep their right-handed rotation of Bryce Elder, Blair Henley and Coy Cobb intact against the Tigers. Texas dropped two of last season’s three games at LSU. Henley, however, was named the Big 12’s pitcher of the week after the led his team to an 11-1 triumph in the series finale.
This weekend’s series
No. 2 LSU at No. 22 Texas, Friday-Sunday, UFCU Disch-Falk Field, LHN, 104.9
Friday, 6:30 p.m.: LSU RHP Zack Hess (1-0, 5.19) vs. UT RHP Bryce Elder (1-0, 0.64)
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.: LSU RHP Landon Marceaux (1-0, 4.76) vs. UT RHP Blair Henley (1-0, 8.31)
Sunday, 1 p.m.: LSU RHP Eric Walker (1-0, 4.50) vs. UT RHP Coy Cobb (0-1, 2.61)