LUBBOCK – Texas’ most reliable options in 2018 have been the trio of Parker Joe Robinson, Kody Clemens, and Zach Zubia.
In order to clinch a Big 12 series victory over Texas Tech, UT head coach David Pierce had to rely on those three in what was the most important game of the Longhorns’ season. The trio delivered to help Texas to a 7-5 victory over the No. 8 Red Raiders at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park.
Starter Blair Henley pitched well over the first five innings allowing just three runs against a potent TTU offense. Things unraveled on him in the sixth after a walk and two singles, and Pierce made the move to bring in Robinson with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Pierce has brought Robinson in during some of the worst situations a reliever could ask for, and today was no different. Not only were the bases loaded with the game tied at three, but Red Raider CF Cody Farhat was at the plate and his bat had been blistering throughout the weekend.
Robinson gave up a fly ball to Farhat that scored one, but retired the next two batters to limit the damage to a single run.
“We’ve put Parker in that situation so many times, and he just keeps coming through,” Pierce said. “Bases loaded with nobody out is how he enters the game, and to escape that with just one run was great pitching.”
Limiting the damage in the sixth kept Texas in the game heading into the seventh and set up Pierce’s other two reliables for the biggest moment of the game.
Clemens, who was put into the leadoff spot for Sunday’s game, came up with two outs against TTU reliever Ty Harpenau. After a disappointing start from Ryan Shetter, Harpenau worked well in the previous three innings to completely limit the Longhorn bats. He couldn’t continue that trend in the seventh.
Clemens sent an opposite field blast over the left field fence to tie the game at four. David Hamilton, hitting in the three spot ahead of Zubia, doubled to bring Zubia up, still in his familiar four spot.
“I could have flipped and put David in the one but I knew that Kody may have one more opportunity to drive in a run,” Pierce said. “That was the biggest reason and I liked the way it worked out. I’d much rather have David in front of Zach than behind him just because it frees him up more.”
Though the lineup placement was intended to prevent Hamilton from being stopped by Zubia’s lack of speed, it worked out in a different way. Zubia sent an opposite field home run of his own over the right field fence to give Texas a 6-4 lead.
Zubia’s seventh inning blast was his tenth of the season. His homer allowed for him and Clemens (16) to become the first Longhorn teammates to have ten or more home runs since Kevin Keyes, Kyle Lusson, and Cameron Rupp all broke double digits in 2010.
“Zach is growing up right in front of our eyes and Kody just has so much confidence,” Pierce said. “He’s the catalyst of this offense, but to watch Zach actually grow up in at bats, and to know what they’re going to give him, and to go two oppo home runs in the same inning with David splitting it with the double with two outs is maturation, and that’s great to see.”
Those homers had positive effects in the dugout.
“Morale got way high,” Robinson said postgame. “Everyone got really excited and I think you can still hear it going on. Everyone’s still pretty pumped up about it.”
This Texas team prides itself on the ability of never being out of games. Early deficits have proven not to mean a whole lot to the Longhorns as they continue to mount comeback after comeback. According to Clemens, that’s just part of the team’s attitude.
“We’re just grinders,” Clemens said. “Sometimes we start out the game behind by two or three runs. Everyone just keeps their nose on the ground and fights back and gets runs on the board. We just don’t stop. We don’t stop hitting, and we’re not going to stop hitting.”
Robinson returned for the seventh and faced the minimum, ending the inning with a double play turned by Clemens.
Texas entered the eighth with a two run cushion, barely anything against a team with eight hitters with averages above .290. Jake McKenzie, whose average had been hovering around the Mendoza line, slapped a two out single to put his average over .200 and give Texas a 7-4 lead.
That run proved pivotal as the Red Raiders got one back in the bottom half, and Robinson was replaced by Josh Sawyer with the mission of retiring a lone Tech hitter to end the eighth inning threat. He got two swings and misses on fastballs and buried the pinch hitter with a breaking ball to end the frame.
The Red Raiders made use of their final opportunity getting two on with two outs via a walk and a strike out. Zach Rheams came to the plate and Pierce visited the mound to tell the infield they were going to remain in a shift, sending third baseman Ryan Reynolds to short right.
The shift made no difference as McGuire struck Rheams out, and followed the completion of the strikeout with a celebratory pirouette in front of the plate. That strikeout earned McGuire the save and Robinson the win.
“That guy has been hot all weekend and a tough out,” McGuire said of Rheams. “Trying to make a pitch there. Made a pitch, luckily he went after it. I trust Jake and DJ (Petrinsky) to finish that one. I’m pretty excited.”
Following the dreadful performance by the pitching staff Saturday, the pitchers and volunteer assistant Phil Haig met before the game. Whatever was said in that meeting wasn’t heard by Pierce, but he was pleased with the results after being “harsh” on them following the 16-5 loss.
“That was Coach Haig and them basically (saying) prove coach wrong,” Pierce said. “I liked it because sometimes you’ve got to rally together. Whatever it takes to get it done. I think the last message in the meeting is we want to make sure we enjoy the bus ride home.”
Though the reason may have been a disappointing performance, the discussion the pitchers had was centered around the ability they knew they had based on their position.
“We just said everyone needs to relax, go out there, we all know we’re good, we all got recruited to play for the University of Texas and just do your thing,” Robinson said. “It panned out a lot better today, and we hope to continue it in the future.”
Texas now has an extended break from baseball to focus on final exams, taking the next three days off from practice and the weekend off from games. “After this week, it’s all baseball and per diem,” Pierce said.
The Longhorns’ put themselves back in the hosting conversation following another series win against a conference opponent and a top 20 team. In addition, Pierce’s team now has a goal in sight that the Longhorns haven’t achieved since 2011.
“This puts us in a great position to host a regional, and to also position ourselves to still have an opportunity to win the first championship and that’s the regular season,” Pierce said. “It’s just a tribute to our players believing in each other, bouncing back from a really, really ugly loss, regrouping when they got behind today, then stepping up to win the game.”
After the events of the weekend, and before the rigors of final exams come, there’s a six hour ride back to Austin.
“We’re going to enjoy a bus ride home,” Pierce said.