AUSTIN (KXAN) — The No. 16 Texas Longhorns baseball team opens the season Friday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field against San Diego, and head coach David Pierce said his seventh full year feels like his third.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “Time flies, and I think that has a lot to do with the great culture and great people to work with. It’s where I want to be.”
For Pierce and the rest of the returning coaches and players, that fly ball lost in the Bay Area twilight that ended their season at Sunken Diamond is something they’ll never forget, but they must stay the course.
“It was hard for our players to swallow in the moment,” Pierce said. “Our players had that Texas Fight in them to the end, but it just wasn’t in the cards. If we can continue to be consistent and put ourselves in positions where we get that opportunity, we’ll get there.”
MORE THAN THE SCORE: Stay up to date on sports stories like these, and sign up for our More than the Score sports newsletter at kxan.com/newsletters
Texas plays its first eight games at home with two series against San Diego and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and single games against Houston Christian and St. John’s. While some of the lineup and defensive positioning is still fluid, Pierce knows who his top arm is — Big 12 preseason pitcher of the year Lebarron Johnson Jr.
“The one thing we have this year that we might not have had in the past is that we’re confident in that Friday night starter,” Pierce said of Johnson. “We have some good balance, good depth and a lot of speed.”
Pierce is also taking over the pitching coach duties, and he said what makes Johnson so good is how he’s able to repeat the mechanics in his delivery.
“A lot of that is the time he’s put in,” Pierce said. “He’s got a good third pitch with a splitter and this is a kid that’s ready every single week. He’s exceptional at being prepared.”
Johnson’s fastball can reach 98 mph but sits more in the 94-96 range, and his power slider bites late and comes out of the same arm slot, making it the perfect complement. Factor in that splitter Pierce mentioned and he has a vicious three-pitch mix.
When March 1 rolls around, the Longhorns are going to have their first exam. From then through March 10, Texas will play four ranked teams — No. 4 Louisiana State, No. 6 Vanderbilt, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 21 Texas Tech — along with an always-tough Texas State team. The Longhorns open Big 12 Conference play with the Red Raiders in Lubbock for a three-game set while LSU, Texas State and Vanderbilt are opponents at the Astros Foundation College Classic at Minute Made Park. Pierce is going to find out what his ballclub is made of in that stretch.
“We like to challenge our team,” Pierce said. “Fortunately we get our first eight at home before we run through that gauntlet, but it’s just going to make us better. It gives us a chance to see who we are.”