Pierce, Shugart Try to Re-Gain Identity as NCAA Austin Regional Begins

There’s a popular refrain that echoes throughout the Forty Acres and online when a Longhorn team gains some momentum—when the football team beats Notre Dame in overtime or men’s basketball downs a buzzer-beater over North Carolina—3-1—Texas is back!

David Pierce pumped the brakes on all that during a press conference on Thursday in advance of Texas’ (No. 1) matchup against Texas Southern (No. 4) on Friday night in the NCAA Austin Regional. The second-year Texas coach sent a message to his team, which was unceremoniously bounced from the Big 12 Tournament last week after winning its first Big 12 regular season title since 2011 the week prior.

“We got stomped,” Pierce said. “We didn’t show up and we lost our edge.” The Longhorns weren’t as embarrassed as Pierce let on, losing squeakers to Kansas (3-2) and Oklahoma (3-1), but for a Texas team that had just won five in a row and seven out of its last eight games, the former Rice skipper felt it necessary to re-center his squad.

“The key for us is to understand in game one is that there are three good teams in this region and we cannot overlook the first game,” he said. “Yesterday we talked about the ability to get to first base to allow a big blow to happen, versus trying to create the big blow with every single hitter. That’s not who we are.”

Texas batters, led by All-American second baseman Kody Clemens (.341, 19 HR, 61 RBI), had gotten into slugfests toward the end of the season, in games against West Virginia, Texas State, and Texas Tech. Pierce stressed that the teams in the Austin region, Indiana specifically, pitch well and play good defense. Those tend to be the one- and two-run games that Texas lost late May in the Big 12 Tournament.

Texas will also start with its No. 2 pitcher, Chase Shugart against the Tigers on Friday, with ace Nolan Kingham sick the past few days. Pierce also finds the matchup attractive to Shugart’s style.

“It just makes sense to go with Chase,” Pierce said. “I like the way he can also start the competition for us with a mentality of attack, a mentality of control. He’s very good with runners and I think that is TSU’s strength.”

Shugart (4-3, 4.73 ERA) was used as a reliever last season, transitioned to a starter at the beginning of 2018, and has been used in the bullpen and to start games toward the end of the season, utilizing what Pierce calls “a rubber arm.” After some ups-and-downs in May, Shugart had a heart-to-heart with Pierce and coach Phil Haig.

“Coach Pierce, Coach Haig, and myself sat down and talked about just being myself,” Shugart said. “Staying with what you do and push through the adversity that we faced this year.”

Shugart called the chance to start game one of the tournament “every kid’s dream,” but noted he needs to channel his emotions to be effective.

Pierce preached staying the course to his team, which performed best when his players maintained a high level of control over themselves, could bounce back from bad innings on the mound or lousy at-bats, and stay focused enough to grind opponents down when it mattered most.

“We just want to make sure that we’re not pressing or trying to do too much,” Pierce said. “The main thing that I told them though is that we’re going to be us.”

Texas takes on visitors Texas Southern at 8 p.m. at a sold-out UFCU Disch–Falk Field.  The game will be broadcast on the Longhorn Network.

Photo courtesy of UT Athletics.

 

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