Facing a team that ranks first in the nation in multiple offensive categories, Texas did well to limit the Tennessee Tech bats from leaving the ball park. It’s what Texas didn’t do that cost them in a 5-4 loss to the Golden Eagles.
Multiple failures to earn strike three on 0-2 counts, a poorly pitched inning, and senior Jake McKenzie tallying three of the team’s five hits from the nine spot with little production from elsewhere put Texas in a tough spot. Four one-hit innings from Ethan Roberts then put the Longhorns in an even tougher spot: down 1-0 in the super regionals.
First, the failure to earn strike three. In the top of the third, junior Nolan Kingham had three different TTU hitters get in a 0-2 deficit. TTU right fielder Nick Osborne was down 0-2 to lead off the inning. He singled into center.
Following a fly out, second baseman John Ham singled through the left side after falling behind in the count. Kingham issued a walk to load the basses, bringing up catcher Brennon Kaleiwahea.
Strike looking. Strike swinging. Single past a diving McKenzie. Kaleiwahea brought in two to give TTU a 2-1 lead.
“I think it came down to a couple of mistake pitches with two strikes,” Pierce said. “We just didn’t finish the pitch with a couple of sliders and didn’t expand the fastball the way we needed.”
Texas responded in the bottom half with a sacrifice fly from sophomore Duke Ellis, and a solo home run from junior Kody Clemens. It was his 22nd of the year.
Then, the miscues. The Golden Eagles scored three in the fifth against a tiring Kingham. Texas head coach David Pierce said postgame the junior right-hander had a cyst removed earlier in the week, and his exhaustion on the mound was apparent in the inning.
He gave up a leadoff walk followed by a single, and his velocity continued to dip. Normally in the mid-90s, Kingham’s fastball velocity began to settle in the high 80s according to the in-stadium radar gun.
Kingham gave TTU designated hitter Kevin Strohschein one of his three strikeouts, but the swinging strike three took a high bounce in front of the plate allowing runners to advance into scoring position. First baseman Chase Chambers doubled the next at bat to score two. As Kingham’s exhaustion continued to reveal itself, shortstop David Garza smacked a double to score chambers. Pierce then took the ball from Kingham.
“It was something that had to be drained,” Pierce said about the cyst. “It hit him on Monday. I was just concerned about his legs staying under him in that sixth inning. The ball started getting up, so we made the change then.”
Finally, the lack of production from players not named McKenzie. Texas scored four runs on the day, with each of the first four hitters adding one RBI. Cleanup hitter Zach Zubia’s came by way of sacrifice fly, and he went hitless on the day.
Just like the next four batters behind him.
It cost Texas multiple times. After allowing a run in the first, TTU starter Marcus Evey faced the minimum in the second against the six, seven, and eight hitters. He retired the five, six, and seven hitters in order in the fourth.
Then, Roberts gave what was likely one of the most important pitching performances in Tennessee Tech history. After Evey walked Clemens and Zubia to start the sixth, Roberts struck out the next three Longhorn hitters, five, six, and seven in the order, to end the frame.
“Probably the biggest thing is he throws that hard cutter and it doesn’t have sink,” Pierce said. “It’s a little more side to side at 90-91 and it’s a tough pitch to identify. It’s a pitch that you don’t see that often at that velocity. We knew we were going to get it. He’s a guy for them.”
The struggle was painfully obvious for Pierce’s club in the eighth. Clemens walked, then hitters four, five, and six all were retired.
A repeat performance occurred in the ninth, with the seven and eight hitters flying out.
McKenzie delivered one of his best hitting performances of the season going 3-for-4 with two doubles and scored two of the team’s four runs. He served as most of the Texas offense.
“Just seeing it well,” McKenzie said. “BP has been better also. Doing better all around.”
Pierce said junior Chase Shugart will get the start tomorrow in a game Texas must win to keep its season going. Shugart threw warmup pitches in the bullpen during the later innings, but it didn’t appear as if it was in preparation to enter the game.
Following the game, the Longhorns met outside the first base dugout. This is a rarity for Texas baseball under Pierce.
“Basically what I just said is we’ve still got an opportunity to still come in here and win the game tomorrow, then take it to a game three,” Pierce said. “That’s the plan right now. We’ve got to be ready to go, and we will be.”
Clemens, the leader of this team, has an opportunity to play one, then two, more games at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in 2018. According to the Golden Spikes and Howser Trophy finalist, it’s two he’s confident will happen.
“This one, we’ve got to learn from it,” Clemens said. “We didn’t execute. Learn from it. We have two more games. You better clear your mind.”
Game two is Sunday at 2 p.m.