Behind Enemy Lines: Texas Longhorns

Gator Country caught up with Inside Texas lead writer Bill Frisbie to preview the Texas Longhorns, who the Florida Gators will meet in this Saturday’s College World Series opener.

GC: Texas isn’t a particularly strong hitting team. How have the Longhorns gotten to this point?

Frisbie: Texas has gotten to this point with outstanding defense (ranked No. 3 nationally heading into the Super Regional) and with bullpen depth. Several times this month, coach Augie Garrido commented that “pitching” is the “cornerstone” of this year’s team.

The hitting has improved since March.  It could be players are finally adjusting to the changes in the bats.  But Garrido said Sunday his Texas teams always hit better in April, May and June.  His conclusion is Texas does not play well in cold weather.

GC: What do the Longhorns do best? What do they struggle with?

Frisbie: Other than pitching and playing great defense, Texas is at its best following a loss or staving off elimination.

On just a few occasions this year does Texas have a winning streak that exceeds four games. Texas had to win five elimination games in the Austin Regional and Super Regional. 

Players and coaches say this brings out the best in the team.  Garrido has said all season that this Texas team has “a champion in them” but lacks a killer instinct.  He believes it takes a loss to get the adrenaline flowing, to get his team’s optimal focus and energy.  (It’s so obvious to Austin sports media that Garrido was jokingly asked if Texas’ chances in Omaha be improved if it opened with a loss to Florida)

This is the youngest Texas team Garrido has brought to the CWS.  The youth may have something to do with the team’s ups and downs this year.

GC: Everyone knows Taylor Jungmann is a great pitcher, but what type of pitcher is he? What does he throw best?

Frisbie: Jungmann had never lost a home game in his three-year career, but has lost two straight NCAA Tournament games that Texas has hosted. To be fair, he only issued one earned run in Texas’ loss to Arizona State.

He gets a lot of movement on his pitches.  He has a nasty slider and his breaking ball is almost unhittable.  He does not throw particularly hard, relatively speaking, and that’s why some say he’ll never be a starting MLB pitcher, but rather middle-reliever at the next level. 

A few nitpick about his mechanics, but Jungmann has a chance to be number one among Texas’ all-time greats if he does well in Omaha.

GC: I noticed Texas has stolen 75 bases this season. Do the Longhorns play a lot of small ball?

Frisbie: If you look up ‘small ball’ in the dictionary, there should be a picture of Texas. Garrido wrote the book on small ball.  It’s his bread-and-butter, especially this season. 

Opposing coaches at the Austin Regional commented that it’s harder to defend small ball because of the constant pressure it puts on the infield.

Teams that have beaten Texas this year are those who typically retire the leadoff batter.  If the leadoff batter gets aboard, Garrido will try to small ball the runner all the way around the base paths.

GC: What does Florida have to do to beat Texas?

Florida has to keep Texas’ leadoff batter from reaching base. Florida has to try to get Jungmann flustered early. Jungmann is very even-keeled, but he has not looked as comfortable in the postseason as he did during the regular season.

GC: Could you give us a prediction for Saturday’s game?

Frisbie: It would be entirely consistent for Texas to lose Saturday and then win out. 

The Gators will be playing in a larger ball park, so a lot of those home runs will stay inside the fences. Opposing coaches have said the thing that surprised them the most about Texas is the sheer athleticism that allowed the defense to chase down sharply hit balls.

Unless Texas uncharacteristically commits fielding errors, I predict a tight, defensive ball game. The new facility is generally considered a pitcher’s park. It’s hard for me to imagine Jungmann losing three straight.

Texas 3 – Florida 2