Texas came away with two victories Saturday in a double header against No. 23 Rice, 5-4 and 6-1. Here are a few thoughts from the eight hours I spent at the Disch.
1. Finding a way: There’s been a lot of talk among Texas baseball fans about how excited they are to see a normal offensive team return to Austin after the departure of Augie Garrido’s small ball-based system. New head coach David Pierce has said on multiple occasions the bunt will be a part of this offense, but it won’t be the dominating aspect as it previously was. Today, it was a healthy part of the Horns approach. In the first game, the initial scoring flurry was set up by two bunt singles prior to Travis Jones taking a pitch to the body to bring in the day’s first run. Kody Clemens grounded out to bring home another run immediately following. Every run was important as Rice starter Ricardo Salinas had a decent evening although his stat line won’t reflect it (Salinas was charged with two more runs because he was responsible for the runners left on base upon his exit). Game two was similar as a run was scored thank on a bunt, and followed Texas putting the ball in play at the right time to bring runners home.
2. The starters: Aside from a shaky second inning, Kyle Johnston put on a great performance in game one. During that second inning, I described Johnston as “wonderfully wild.” He’s always had solid stuff, he’s just struggled to command it sometimes. From the third inning on, he commanded it very well. His line shows his efficiency: 6 IP. 7 H, ER, BB, 6 K. In game two, freshman Blair Henley allowed one run in the opening frame, but he settled in as the game went on, allowing one more hit in the remaining four innings he worked. Henley said after the game the moment got to him at first, but once those opening butterflies flew away, he controlled the Rice offense the rest of the way.
3. Game one Bullpen woes: Sophomore Chase Shugart entered into the final inning of the seven inning game one with a four run lead. He started off poorly by allowing a home run, then a few singles, and a few more runs until Rice closed the deficit to one. Shugart had trouble finding the plate and was forced to use his fastball in hitter’s counts, which Rice capitalized on. If Shugart wants to take control of the “stopper” role as Pierce calls it, he can’t have performances like tonight or else he won’t find himself in that role as the season goes on. Freshman Beau O’Hara recorded the final out and earned the save due to Shugart’s struggles.
4. Play of the Day: That final out, however, was a doozy. With a runner on second, Rice slapped a single to left field, and the third base coach took a risk and waved the runner home. The ball was hit right at left fielder Travis Jones, who fielded it cleanly and came up firing. He threw a perfect strike to catcher Michael Cantu, who was in great position to make the tag and end the game. If Jones hadn’t made the throw he did, the game is tied and Rice has all of the momentum.
5. Day at the Plate: Kacy Clemens was 4-for-5 with 2 RBIs on the day and homered to the opposite field in the second game to tie for the team and family lead in home runs this season (Kody Clemens hit one yesterday). Michael McCann also had a nice game at the plate in game two, going 1-for-2 with an RBI. His fellow catcher, Michael Cantu, has not had a good start to the season. Cantu is 1-for-4 in 2.5 games and has put together some unimpressive at bats at the plate. He’s someone Texas really could use as an effective bat in this lineup, and if his offense can catch up with his defense, he could be a good player for Texas this season.
6. Players of the Day: Blair Henley and Kyle Johnston. Each starter had one shaky inning, then responded with dazzling stuff. 11 innings combined and only two runs allowed greatly reduces pressure on the offense.
7. For the win, tomorrow: Connor Mayes will be on the bump for Sunday’s noon match up. Texas can take the series against a ranked opponent and begin the season with some good momentum in Pierce’s first few games.
On sweeping the doubleheader: I thought we were outstanding all day. We stayed locked in all day. It’s tough to do. It’s tough to sweep a doubleheader, especially against a great opponent like Rice. I’m just proud of the kids, the way they stayed focused all day. We pitched really well and commanded the fastball and we were able to pitch off of that. “
On starting pitchers Kyle Johnson and Blair Henley’s performances: Well Kyle’s stuff is so good, and if he commands the strike zone he gives us a great chance. Little trouble early allowing the leadoff hitters to get on first base, but he just continued to pitch and made pitches after that. Blair did the same thing. I thought he went out placing the ball early in the game in the first inning and really started trusting himself after that. I just thought after that he was lights out.
On the team’s hitting in both games: Well that’s what we’d like to be is a team that can actually score multiple ways. I think we exemplified that today by the short game in Game 1 and just doing little things. We drew some walks today. We showed some pretty good plate discipline. I’d like to have gotten more runs with bases loaded, nobody out – twice we only got one run out of that – but we continued to play. We never got down and we played really good defense.
On what he was thinking during junior outfielder Travis Jones’ game-saving throw to home plate in Game 1: ‘Throw a strike.’ He made a play, and that’s what we talk about a lot: don’t be afraid to make that play. He came in and there was no doubt in his mind that he was going for it and he did it.
On recovering after a slow first inning: Yeah, the first inning was rough. I didn’t have all my stuff. I was pretty jittery. But I kind of settled down, started doing what I usually do, throwing what I usually do, and not really letting all the hype get to me. After that I kind of started figuring out where I needed to throw my pitches. It helps a lot.
On feeling comfortable with all of his pitches: I try to mix it up as much as possible. They’re a good hitting team so I’ve got to keep them on their toes as much as possible, and I kind of showed that after the first inning.
On how he calmed himself down after giving up a walk and two hits to start the game: Coach [Phil] Haig came up to me and he was like, “Already got your first inning under your belt, go out there and do what you usually do. Don’t go out there and throw like you did, because that’s not you.” He kind of told me to go out there and be myself, and that’s what I did.
On junior outfielder Travis Jones’ game-saving throw to home plate in Game 1: It was awesome. We had so much momentum going into the second game. Even though that last inning wasn’t exactly what we wanted, we ended on a high note. Going into the next game, I knew we had the momentum. It’s a home game so it was a lot of fun. I’m glad that I got to throw after that.
On what he was thinking during the final play of Game 1: I’m thinking, ‘Catch the ball’ first off. It kind of gave me a bit of a hop but I fielded it clean. I kind of saw him going in my peripheral. I’m just happy I made a good throw and got him out more than anything. I felt pretty good out of the hand. Halfway through I kind of saw where he was at, saw where the ball was at, and I kind of felt like I already had him out.
On the team’s performance at the plate: Offensively, I think everybody did a good job. We competed well. Everybody grinded through at-bats. We gave away a few here and there, but as a team I think we did an excellent job of just grinding through at-bats and competing at the plate.
On having outcomes go their way, as opposed to last year: If it was last year, the outcome of Game 1 would’ve been different. Honestly, who knows what would’ve happened. The ball probably would’ve been a double, they would’ve scored two runs. So today was a great day. We finally got a win and didn’t have anyone come back on us.
On what it means to get the first win under Coach Pierce: It means everything, really. Today was a tough day. Winning two games in one day is a hard thing to do. We did it, he talked us through it, he helped us out. I think that he’s proud of us and we’re proud of him, everything he’s done for us, and we’re just happy to get it for him.