Texas would get the nod in this category if lefthanded pitcher Dillon Peters was healthy. However, that’s not the case and the Cougars have the overall edge in terms of starting pitching.
Though the Longhorns entered the Houston Regional last weekend without Peters, they still did a tremendous job on the mound with righthanded pitchers Nathan Thornhill and Parker French, and surprising Chad Hollingsworth leading the charge, while another talented righty, Luke Schiraldi also showed glimpses of an elite arm.
Thornhill is a talented righty who typically will sit anywhere from 88-92 with good pitchability and secondary stuff. Thornhill is poised, a veteran and is tough to rattle, as evidenced by his outstanding senior season and his performance in the Houston Regional, where he struck out seven and allowed just a run in seven innings in a tournament-opening win over Texas A&M.
The Longhorns have used French, another righty, in a variety of roles down the stretch, both as a reliever and starting pitcher. But after his performance against Rice last weekend, combined with French’s injury, it’s safe to suggest he will stick in the weekend rotation. French has a hard-nosed approach and isn’t afraid to attack hitters with his sinking stuff, particularly a fastball that sits upper-80s and into the low-90s, but tends to play up at times.
Then there’s Schiraldi. Schiraldi allowed two runs (one earned) in just 3 1/3 innings against Texas A&M in the Houston Regional. Schiraldi has a big-time arm with a fastball anywhere from 89-93, with the ability to touch 94, while he possesses a good breaking ball. The problem? Schiraldi tends to have command issues at times, as evidenced by his four walks in that outing against the Aggies.
As for the Cougars, this truly is one of the better rotations in the country, especially when you dissect No. 1 and No. 2 starting pitchers, both righthanders, Aaron Garza and Jake Lemoine.
Garza isn’t an overpowering pitcher by any means, recording just 57 strikeouts in 104 1/3 innings this spring, but is very consistent with his approach and overall stuff with a 2.67 ERA in 104 1/3 innings. Garza will sat mid-to-upper 80s, bumping 90, with his fastball, while his slider is the go-to secondary offering.
Lemoine is the biggest arm on this staff. The talented righty, who will play for Team USA this summer, has a 2.65 ERA in 102 innings. Lemoine has electric stuff at times consistently sitting 93-95 with his fastball and offering a wipeout slider in spurts. However, Lemoine, at least not yet, isn’t the type of overpowering force who misses a ton of bats. With that said, Lemoine absolutely has the ability to go out there this weekend and throw up eight or nine zeroes in the run column.
The Cougars’ third option boils down to righthanded pitchers David Longville and Andrew Lantrip. Longville was very solid against LSU a few days ago, allowing a run in five innings and tallying an overall ERA of 2.88 ERA in 59 1/3 innings. Command is Longville’s forte. Meanwhile, Lantrip was one of the state’s top prospects out of high school and is meeting expectations with a 1.87 ERA in 43 1/3 innings.
Both the Longhorns and Cougars enter the weekend with good bullpens, and it’s nearly a clear draw. However, at home at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, the Texas bullpen knows the lay of the land and gets the overall edge.
Loose-armed righthander John Curtiss spearheads the bullpen. Curtiss has a live arm and returned this season from Tommy John surgery. He has electric overall stuff and it’s not uncommon for Curtiss to bump 94-95 mph with his fastball. Curtiss is a poised pitcher who’s not afraid to challenge hitters.
Freshman righthanded pitcher Morgan Cooper has blossomed into an elite arm in his first season with the program. Cooper sits upper-80s, low-90s with his fastball and also possesses a good breaking ball. Meanwhile, lefthander Ty Culbreth is a good option out of the bullpen, while calm lefthander Travis Duke is a consistent arm who’s completely fine with his role as either a setup guy or regular reliever. Duke threw four very good innings of relief work in the Houston Regional.
While the Longhorns might have more star power with Curtiss leading the way, UH probably has the deeper bullpen. Tyler Ford (1.22, 26 IP) and Bubba Maxwell (3.47, 23.1 IP), who can touch 93, are both quality arms the Cougars often rely upon, while Chase Wellbrock (1.22, 12 saves) is a unique closer with the ability to come in and really mix his pitches. Meanwhile, Jared Robinson rose to the occasion in a pair of lengthy relief outings in the Baton Rouge Regional last weekend and is one to watch.
It’s been well-documented on my end, but I really like the way this Houston lineup stacks up entering the weekend. Yes, the Cougars only enter the weekend with a .278 team batting average, but this team is much better offensively than the numbers indicate.
Case in point, UH’s offensive production in the Baton Rouge Regional last weekend, including a 12-2 thrashing of LSU to advance to the NCAA Super Regional round. Veteran UH first baseman Casey Grayson has good power potential and leads the team with a .325 batting average and six homers, while outfielder Kyle Survance is the table setter for this club. In addition to hitting an impressive .320, Survance has a lot of versatility and enters the weekend with 31 stolen bases in 38 attempts.
Connor Hollis (.310/0/8) really has stepped up offensively down the stretch, while Justin Montemayor has impressive tools and could have a big weekend. I’d also watch for Frankie Ratcliff (.279/2/28), Ashford Fulmer (.273/4/32), Michael Pyeatt (.297/1/21) and Josh Vidales (.268/0/29). All three have spark plug characteristics, with Fulmer possessing the power necessary to break a game open.
The Longhorns, as with the Cougars, have some deceiving offensive numbers. Yes, the Longhorns didn’t exactly knock the cover off the baseball at the Big 12 tournament two weekends ago, but they showed advanced approaches and power potential in the Houston Regional last weekend.
Sophomore shortstop C.J. Hinojosa is seeing the ball very well right now and finished the Houston Regional with a team-best .462 batting average, while Brooks Marlow is a seasoned veteran atop the lineup who has the ability to hit for some power, and outfielder Ben Johnson is a terrific athlete with some sneaky power at the plate.
Madison Carter is having quite the season for the ‘Horns, while I love what catcher Tres Barrera brings to the table. In addition to showing a strong arm behind the plate and good leadership, Barrera has a good bat with some power potential.
Senior outfielder Mark Payton is the ringleader of the offense. Payton is a tremendous leader with great makeup and is one of those hitters who seldom swings at bad pitches. Payton makes pitchers work and tends to get something good to hit. Payton has gap power and has the ability to swipe some bases, as evidenced by his team-best four stolen bases in the Houston Regional.
Houston and Texas are quality defensive clubs, with the Longhorns getting the overall edge this weekend.
The Longhorns have a very athletic outfield with Ben Johnson, Mark Payton and Collin Shaw leading the charge, while first baseman Kacy Clemens and catcher Tres Barrera, both freshmen, are stable defenders, with Barrera possessing a strong arm. Texas also is strong in the middle, where shortstop C.J. Hinojosa is coming off a terrific weekend defensively, and second baseman Brooks Marlow is a steady defender.
Houston has a good middle infield with Frankie Ratcliff and gritty Josh Vidales leading the way, while outfielders Kyle Survance and Ashford Fulmer are athletic and have the ability to cover a lot of ground. Elsewhere, first baseman Casey Grayson is a stable infield component and catcher Caleb Barker has good, veteran, tendencies.
Playing at Disch-Falk Field this weekend, this series very well could come down to which team performs the best in the field.