AUSTIN — Baseball will return to UFCU Disch–Falk Field on Friday and the territory isn't the only familiar aspect for the Longhorns in the 2018 Austin regional tournament.
Texas already faced two of the three opponents who are in their regional bracket in 2018: Texas A&M and Texas Southern.
Texas faced off with Texas A&M in College Station, where the Longhorns fell 5-6 in early April. UT was down 3-6 after six innings and began to make a comeback in the seventh and eighth innings, but the Aggies held on to defeat the Longhorns.
Eight days later, Texas traveled to Constellation Field in Sugar Land and defeated Texas Southern 10-2 on April 18. The Longhorns sprung out to a 6-0 lead in the first five innings and never looked back.
UT head coach David Pierce told KVUE he likes the added advantage of playing familiar opponents.
"Always. For me, it gives a better sense of their team against our arms, or their hitters against our hitters," Pierce said. "There is a lot of reality to the film that we get."
The Aggies-Longhorns rivalry has potential to meet again in 2018, but this time at the Disch. And if history proves true, there will be zero love lost between these two programs as the Longhorns welcome the Aggies into town.
"As kids, if you grew up in [Texas], you're either an Aggie or you're a Longhorn," Pierce said.
Pierce did reiterate the regional tournament is not just about the Aggies, however. He recognized there are still two other teams in the mix.
Pierce made it abundantly clear in a Friday press conference that the Longhorns cannot look past Texas Southern to a potential matchup with the Aggies. The UT coach shared a story with the media from 2003: he was a part of the Rice program and were seeded sixth nationally that year. According to Pierce, Texas Southern beat the 2003 Rice team 4-3, which sent the Owls to the losers bracket despite starting a pitcher who was a MLB first round draft pick.
"We've got four very good teams representing three Power 5's," Pierce said. "Texas A&M representing the SEC. They had a great postseason tournament. The Big Ten represented by Indiana -- a very quality team that can really pitch and play defense. They're a very balanced, powerful lineup. When you look at Texas Southern, who we were matched up with down in Houston, this is a team that is a little different from the SWAC team you've seen in the past. First of all, they're older. They're very physical and they can run. So they are a very qualified four seed."
The moral of the story: anything can happen.
"The main thing that I told them though is that we're going to be us," Pierce said of his message to his Longhorns squad. "We're going to go out and you could see us being very aggressive early in the game because that's what we've always done. We're not going to sit back and try and hit doubles in the gap and hit home runs every at bat. We're going to do what we do, and that's when we're good."
Junior pitcher Chase Shugart will receive the start against Texas Southern with Longhorns ace pitcher Nolan Kingham battling sickness, according to Pierce. Pierce said he gave Shugart the nod because he has the ability to come back better than any of the other Longhorns' starters.
"(Shugart) can come back on a Sunday and give us two to three innings and start a Monday, Pierce said. "He has a very resilient, bounce back mentality, as well as a rubber arm. We may have to utilize that. It just makes sense to go with Chase. 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 enters the first matchup with a confident mindset to take on an aggressive Texas Southern ball club.
"Being able to trust myself in the zone with runners on base and letting our defense work is a big thing for me tomorrow night. They're an aggressive team on the base paths and aggressive in the batter's box. So being able to pitch and control my game is what I plan on doing," Shugart said.
Hosting the regional tournament does have its perks, though. Junior inflielder Kody Clemens expressed what an the advantage of being the tournament hosts means to him and his teammates.
"It's big," Clemens said. "Obviously, to be able to play on your home field is a huge advantage. I think the younger guys and the JUCO guys that have played in an environment like this, such as LSU and at Texas A&M, I think they have a feel of what's going to happen out here. So having our home crowd and packing the Disch is going to be a lot of fun."
As "coach speak" goes, the Longhorns said they're taking things one game at a time, which starts with Texas Southern on Friday at 8 p.m. on Longhorn Network.