Texas’ baseball and softball teams didn’t go out the way they wanted to last year.
Augie Garrido’s squad missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 and the Longhorns softball team fell one win short of reaching the Women’s College World Series for the first time in six seasons.
It was a disappointing end to the year and a finish both teams can avoid if their pitching staffs let them.
“It’s definitely not a heartbreak at all,” junior Corey Knebel said. “I guess it’s just a little pissed off. We’re definitely wanting to come back with a lot of motivation to redeem ourselves.”
Knebel made little effort to hide his frustration with his role last April, when he claimed to be getting mixed messages from the Texas coaching staff on whether he would be a starter or closer. But now the feared reliever is right where the Longhorns need him — at the back end of the bullpen.
“He is very comfortable and knows that it’s in the team’s best interest for him to be the closer,” head coach Augie Garrido said.
At the front end of the rotation will be sophomore Parker French, who emerged as the Longhorns’ ace starting pitcher as a freshman last year before an elbow injury prematurely ended his season. French had a streak of 33 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings as a freshman and, equipped with a slider he’s been working on this offseason, should be a reliable Friday-night starter.
As for what the Longhorns pitching staff will look at between French and Knebel, not much has been decided. Nathan Thornhill and Dillon Peters are solid options to fill out the rotation while freshman Chad Hollingsworth is showing plenty of promise. Between them, Texas has the foundation for what can be a staff that will rack up a lot of wins, although it may not rack up many strikeouts.
“We don’t have a lot of guys that are going to blow you away on the radar gun,” French said. “If they hit it, so what? Most of the time, you’re going to succeed as a pitcher. You have to believe that if you throw this pitch, they’re going to pop it up or hit it on the ground.”
Senior Blaire Luna, the Texas softball team’s ace each of the last three years, isn’t one to pitch to contact. She has fanned 1,006 hitters during her career and nearly led the Longhorns to the WCWS last season. But Texas lost the final two games of its Super Regional series against Oregon after winning the opener.
Without Rachel Fox, a rising junior who transferred to Texas A&M this offseason, the Longhorns will lean heavily on Luna this year. And if there’s a pitcher that can carry Texas to the WCWS, it’s Luna.
“She’s hungry. She wants to go out on a high note,” head coach Connie Clark said. “She’s never going to be that vocal leader but she’s really stepped up and speaking up a little more in team meetings. Any time you have an athlete like that, when she says something, people listen.”
Luna claims that she prefers to let her play do the talking. But others say she’s more outgoing than she seems around the cameras.
“She looks innocent, but she’s not,” center fielder Brejae Washington said. “Looks can be deceiving.”