Baseball

From one rivalry matchup to another, Texas baseball heads to College Station ranked No. 5

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On the heels of a 3-1 week and a Big 12 series win over Red River rival Oklahoma, Texas moved up in several major polls.

D1Baseball.com moved David Pierce’s Longhorns up four spots to the No. 5 position, while Baseball America ranked Texas No. 7. Both polls previously listed the Longhorns as the No. 9 team in the country.

UT’s winning performances against the Sooners, a Friday night extra-inning thriller and a Saturday slugfest, plus under .500 weeks from Mississippi State and East Carolina paved the way for Texas to move up to their highest ranking ever in the D1baseball.com poll under Pierce.

Though Texas took two from OU over the weekend, it dropped the series finale and chance at a sweep, 3-2, despite a solid pitching performance from Kolby Kubichek. After several clean games resulting in come-from-behind victories, Texas couldn’t do enough of the little things on the field and at the plate to complete a 4-0 week.

“We didn’t score early,” Pierce said Sunday. “We had a base running mistake. We didn’t execute in situational offense today, probably tried to do too much from my perspective.”

Texas’ two runs came via an RBI single from Mitchell Daly in the fourth, and an RBI infield single from Mike Antico in the eighth to tie the game at 2-2. Daly’s knock brought in one, and Pierce sent Silas Ardoin home with two outs from second base. Despite a throw up the line from the right fielder, Sooner catcher Jimmy Crooks handled it and put the tag on Ardoin to keep the game tied.

In the eighth, Antico singled with two outs and the bases loaded. Pinch hitter Dalton Porter stepped to the plate against top OU reliever Jason Ruffcorn and swung and missed at three straight pitches in the following at bat.

OU scratched across the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth with three straight two-out singles. The deciding base hit from Conor McKenna deflected off both third baseman Cam Williams and shortstop Trey Faltine into short left, allowing Crooks to score from second.

Pierce didn’t sense any complacency from his team. It would have been a mildly concerning sign if he did, considering he heaped praise Saturday on his team’s ability to prepare for every game regardless of who the opponent is.

“I thought our mentality was right,” Pierce said. “They went into Sunday ready, and today was no different. The entire talk after yesterday’s game was to finish today, and I thought our mindset was good. We just didn’t get it done. We didn’t play well enough to win today.”

Though OU returned to Norman on Sunday night, Texas’ continues its campaign with another rivalry game. The Longhorns travel to College Station for a mid-week matchup with Texas A&M. UT hasn’t won at Olsen Field since 2011, and is unsuccessful in its last three tries in Aggieland.

“I know one thing they do every year, they pitch,” Pierce said. “They’re good at home. It’s going to be an exciting game for us to go into and play another type of rival, another good team, and continue to get better and continue to test ourselves.”

A note on Mike Antico

The St. John’s transfer hit .386/.500/.598 (AVG/OBP/SLG) during the most recent full college baseball season in 2019. After the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Antico elected to transfer to Texas for his final collegiate season.

The adjustment to Big 12, big-time baseball is still ongoing. His game-tying RBI on Sunday is one of few highlights for Antico this season. His stats aren’t glowing, as he’s hitting .220/.381/.341 and committed an error Sunday crucial to the game’s outcome.

Pierce tinkered with the lineup some throughout the week, with Antico starting in center in only two of the four games. Though the results aren’t there thus far, Pierce still believes in the senior from New Jersey.

“As an older player, I think he’s probably put way too much pressure on himself to be a guy as opposed to just fitting in a part of the puzzle,” Pierce said. “He’s going to settle down and he’s going to help this ballclub do well. I think he’s understanding that playing at the University of Texas is a little different than playing at St. Johns, and he’s figuring it out.”

“There’s a different type of pressure, and for him being an older player and has had a ton of success, I think he’s realizing there still needs to be plenty adjustments because of the type of stuff we see day in and day out.”