AUSTIN — Junior Nolan Kingham thought he was going to start Friday night against Texas Southern. His body thought otherwise. Kingham caught some sort of bug following the Big 12 Tournament, and though he improved throughout the week he took a step back as the regional approached.
“It was ongoing on Thursday and I told [Texas head coach David] Pierce ‘I don’t know about Friday, man. It’s pretty close,’” Kingham said. “He gave me an extra day and it worked out.”
Neither liquids nor food would stay down all the way up to the morning of the game, as senior Jake McKenzie noted in the postgame press conference that Kingham threw up Saturday morning. Whatever his body was able to do before 6 p.m. allowed him to go out and deliver 7.2 exhausting innings as part of an 8-3 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies.
After he “got all that poison out” as he claimed postgame, Kingham baffled Aggie hitters for the majority of the evening. He allowed three runs with just two of them earned in his 96 pitch performance. He added eight strikeouts and walked just one.
With Texas as the visiting team in UFCU Disch-Falk Field due to NCAA rules, Kingham had to wait before he would make the first of his eight slow strolls toward the mound. He would have a three-run cushion prior to his first.
After sophomores David Hamilton and Duke Ellis reached base, junior Kody Clemens sent a 2-1 breaking pitch to Comal St. For Clemens, it was yet another big home run in an important game. “It gave us a three run lead and at that point, I thought we did a great job of just continuing to play and staying locked in continuing to tack on,” Pierce said after the game.
While rounding third, Clemens looked intently at the Aggie dugout until he stepped on home plate.
“Playing A&M you get pretty emotional,” Clemens said. “It was just in the moment.”
With that lead, Kingham started his efficient performance. He had one blip when Hamilton booted a ground ball that likely would have been the start of a 6-4-3 double-play to end the third inning. Aggie second baseman Michael Helman bunted two batters later to bring in a runner from third. Kingham would settle in after that.
He would have even more insurance as Texas would score four unanswered in the fourth and fifth. Junior DJ Petrinsky added his second homer of the regional, and Clemens brought in another on a RBI single. McKenzie notched a RBI with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, and Hamilton brought home one with a RBI single of his own.
Clemens added one more with a solo shot in the sixth, but A&M responded with one of their own to make it 8-2.
Kingham appeared to be feeling the effects of his illness at that point, but he continued to battle and pitch effectively against a solid A&M lineup. In order to conserve energy between innings, he would walk to and from the mound at a snail’s pace.
“I spent all week basically lying in bed, so I never got any exercise in or anything,” Kingham said. “I don’t want to go out there and one inning goes by, and I’m gassed and I need an inhaler. I really paced myself in the warmups and stretching and everything.”
He pitched through the seventh and Pierce let him return to the mound in the eighth. He forced a groundout, gave up a double, and got one more to groundout.
As the 7046 in attendance rose to their feet, Kingham battled with Will Frizzell for seven pitches. On the eighth, Frizzell won with a RBI single, and Pierce walked to the mound to take the ball.
The mostly burnt orange crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“It was awesome,” Kingham said. “I wanted to go the whole game.”
Pierce responded to that statement with an incredulous look.
Junior Josh Sawyer recorded the final out of the eighth, and junior Andy McGuire worked around hitting the leadoff batter to close out the game and put Texas in the regional final tomorrow against the winner of an elimination game between Texas A&M and Indiana.
Sophomore Blair Henley was ready to relieve Kingham if his outing was cut short. Instead, thanks to one of the best performances of Kingham’s career, Henley will have the ball tomorrow with a chance to send Texas to a super regional for the first time since 2014.
“I trusted what he told me, I just wasn’t sure that once the adrenaline starts, the heat, and then how much stamina he actually had,” Pierce said. “He did a great job of, like he said, pacing and giving us everything he had.”
In 2017, Texas was one win away from reaching the super regionals in Pierce’s first year as Texas head coach before the Longhorns dropped two one-run games to Long Beach State in their home park.
Tomorrow, with a place in the round of 16 on the line, Pierce expects his team to be ready regardless of whether they play the Hoosiers or the Aggies.
“These guys really have matured,” Pierce said. “You can see it through the course of this regional. You can see their play. They’ve been very reserved and understanding one pitch at a time, playing the inning, and just continuing to play. They did that tonight and I expect that again tomorrow.”