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Heading into the first of four games between Stanford and Texas, the only advantage the Longhorns appeared to have was that the games were to be held in Austin. Pre-season All-American Tristan Beck took the mound for the Cardinal opposite true freshman Nico O’Donnell in just his third appearance. Stanford also carried a consensus top eight ranking and a strong 11-1 record compared to Texas’ consensus top 20 ranking and 8-4 mark.
The freshman outpitched the All-American. The 8-4 team got its ninth win. The Longhorns responded to every Cardinal threat. Texas took game one from Stanford, 8-6.
The team that had struggled against equal to superior competition this season took everything the opponent could handle, and had a response every time. Texas scored one run in each of the first five innings. Junior second baseman Kody Clemens’ monstrous two-run home run in the third built momentum O’Donnell would use in his first four innings.
O’Donnell allowed just one hit in his four innings of work, a leadoff single to open the game. From that point to the fifth, he looked the part of the top draft prospect, not Beck.
“I thought Nico [O’Donnell] settled in after the first inning,” head coach David Pierce said. “He got a couple of breaks there. The defense played outstanding behind him. He threw some quality pitches. I was hoping to get five innings out of him. We got four and we’re just watching the kid grow up. It’s happening right in front of us.”
Pierce is gaining more and more confidence in his freshman pitcher, enough to throw him against an All-American. That confidence serves as a boost to O’Donnell.
“It feels good,” O’Donnell said. “It means that he has confidence in me. That give me confidence in return. I felt pretty good going into this one.”
However, O’Donnell couldn’t keep his strong outing going into the fifth inning. After a giving up a leadoff single, Stanford catcher Maverick Handley smashed a ball into the left-field bullpen.
Pierce would replace O’Donnell with junior Josh Sawyer. He would complete the inning, and Texas’ score in response in the bottom of the fifth would give the Longhorns a 5-2 lead.
After taking Texas’ best shot in the first half of the game, Stanford responded with their own to tie it. The two in the fifth, two in the sixth from a Kyle Stowers bases loaded single, and one in the seventh off a Brandon Wulff single knotted the game at five.
Texas took those punches and dealt three blows in the seventh they would ride to the end of the fight. The first came from sophomore Ryan Reynolds’ RBI single. After being down 1-2 in the count, Reynolds worked the count full and slapped a single to score Clemens.
The last blow came from a surprising source. Sophomore Austin Todd, who Pierce said Wednesday likely would not be cleared to swing this weekend, knocked a two-RBI single off the second baseman’s glove to give Texas a three run lead.
“I’ve been itching to play the past couple of weeks,” Todd said. “I’ve just been on the edge of my seat taking everything in and learning from the game. I knew that I was starting to get better and I just had to be ready whenever coach called on me.”
Junior Chase Shugart, the scheduled Sunday starter, didn’t have his most dominant stuff over the last two innings, but still earned the save in relief. Freshman Bryce Elder received the win after 1.1 innings of relief.
After taking the best from a team that entered the game with just one loss, Texas’ repeated response was evidence of a team that is still forming gaining confidence in itself.
“I just see them growing and understanding that we play the entire game,” Pierce said. “The key was to continue to have quality at-bats. For these guys to finish it off and get the win was big for us going into the rest of the weekend.”
Texas will face another strong arm tomorrow in Kris Bubic, but instead of a true freshman opposite him, they’ll have their own All-American candidate in junior Nolan Kingham. In addition, they’ll have the confidence that they can take the best a top five team can give them, and be able to dish it right back.
First pitch Friday night is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.