Despite rainy conditions, Longhorns defeat UCLA 5-2 to take series

Texas after defeating UCLA 5-2 (Joe Cook/IT)

Texas after defeating UCLA 5-2 (Joe Cook/IT)

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Box score.

On the heels of a 5-4 come-from-behind victory, the conditions in Austin tried to put a damper on both the scheduled game and the Texas offense. Though the sky was crying, Longhorn bats were not as a big offensive first inning and a combined two-hitter from the staff helped Texas win 5-2 and take the series from the UCLA Bruins. Junior Morgan Cooper earned the win, going five innings and allowing the Bruins’ only two hits and two runs, striking out 10 on 117 pitches, both career highs. Junior Kyle Johnston earned the save in his second appearance this season as closer.

Texas jumped ahead in the first inning and never looked back, giving Cooper a four run advantage to work with. Texas opened the scoring up when senior first baseman Kacy Clemens doubled. Junior left fielder Travis Jones was running on the pitch from first base and scored to make it 1-0 Texas.

Freshman center fielder Austin Todd doubled on the very next pitch to score Clemens. Then, freshman third baseman Ryan Reynolds brought in Todd on a hard hit single to the left side. The first inning scoring frenzy ended with a sacrifice fly from freshman shortstop David Hamilton.

Head coach David Pierce said after the game his team’s ability to bring the momentum from late Friday to the first inning helped carry his team to victory on Saturday.

“You always carry momentum from a great Friday night win,” Pierce said. “It’s easy to let up as well, especially when you get an early lead. I just thought we stayed consistent through the game. I thought we had a lot of tenacity and we really just held on to a lead. You’d like to tack on, but we just did a good job of holding on to the lead.”

At the beginning of the game, both teams had to endure a light drizzle. It was not enough for the game to be called, but enough to be a slight annoyance to both teams. Cooper was dominant over the first two slightly soaked innings, striking out five of the first six batters.

Things became a little more difficult in the third when the rain really began to come down in droves. On a normal grass and dirt baseball field, the umpires more than likely would have considered delaying the game. Since the pitcher’s mound is the only part of UFCU Disch-Falk Field to be made of a non-artificial surface, the umpires let the game continue.

Cooper struggled in the third, with both his velocity and control taking a major dip due to the downpour. UCLA scratched one across on a bases loaded wild pitch to make it 4-1.

Texas responded in the bottom half with a solo home run by Reynolds.

UCLA would claw one back in the fourth when they scored a run on a dropped third strike and throwing error by junior catcher Michael Cantu. Cooper would settle in following the second run and finish the fourth and fifth.

“I would have like to have been a little smoother through those third and fourth innings, but it makes it less painful when there’s five or six runs on the board and you don’t have to worry about it as much,” Cooper said. “Giving up one or two here’s not a big deal.”

Texas would have to survive the biggest Bruin threat and the worst of Saturday’s downpour in the seventh inning. With rain coming down in sheets, struggling sophomore reliever Chase Shugart entered the game with one out. Shugart walked the first batter and Texas fans may have wondered if he had yet to shake off his control problems.

Shugart responded by escaping the bases loaded jam with two straight strikeouts.

“He couldn’t control his fastball so he just dominated with the slider,” Pierce said. “He struck out 3-4 right there in a critical part of the game. That was probably the biggest part of the game to prevent them from getting something started and possibly taking the lead. I just thought Chase did a good job with just pounding the strike zone with his slider.”

Shugart was part of a five pitcher, four inning relief effort that allowed no hits, no runs, struck out four and walked six. After the game, Cooper gave his teammates in the bullpen a tip of his cap.

“It was awesome to have the bullpen come in like that,” Cooper said. “I didn’t go as long as I would like, but to come in and have four solid innings like that, that was huge. They came in and just got it done. The weather was crappy and we were switching balls every other pitch. That’s not easy. We grinded. This game was a grind.”

Shugart, sophomore Beau Ridgeway and Johnston kept UCLA quiet in the last two innings. Johnston allowed just one walk on his way to earning his second save.

Texas goes for their first series sweep since the Kansas State series in 2015. Though his team has the series locked up, Pierce does not want to take Sunday’s game lightly.

“I think it’s going to be a tough game,” Pierce said. “That’s a great program. UCLA is an outstanding program in an outstanding conference. We’re going to have to come ready to play. Their Sunday guy, Olsen, is very good. We’ll send out Blair Henley. It’s exciting to have the opportunity. That’s what we look for, the challenge and the opportunity to go out and compete and put ourselves in a position to sweep. We’ll see how we react.”