Kingham’s strong performance shuts down Cajuns in season opener, 3-0

UFCU Disch-Falk Field (Joe Cook/IT)
UFCU Disch-Falk Field (Joe Cook/IT)

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Junior right-hander Nolan Kingham had high expectations coming into this season. Others did too, as he was named to the Golden Spikes Award pre-season watch list. Kingham delivered a performance that exceeded those expectations tonight, as his eight innings of shutout baseball silenced the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun bats, earning the win in No. 21 Texas’ 3-0 Opening Day victory.

Kingham’s first two innings were quiet, though not necessarily smooth. He allowed a hit to the first batter of the season, but stranded him at third base. In the second, he gave up a double, but also stranded that runner at second.

Those would be the only two runners to make it to scoring position for Louisiana.

The Las Vegas junior settled in when the third inning began. From that point, he retired 10 straight batters and ended up retiring 17 of the last 19 batters he faced before being pulled for Beau Ridgeway after the eighth.

The line for Kingham was spectacular. He allowed just three hits over eight scoreless innings, struck out a career-high 10 of the 27 batters he faced while walking just one. Following those first two innings, Kingham worked very quickly from the windup, and had several innings with single-digit pitch counts.

Although Kingham possibly could have returned for the complete-game shutout in the ninth inning, head coach David Pierce sent junior right hander Beau Ridgeway to the mound for the save. Ridgeway struck out one of the three Ragin’ Cajuns he retired in order to earn the save.

The two Texas pitchers combined to throw 104 pitches and 76 strikes in a game that took less than three hours to finish.

On the offensive end, the Longhorns almost got off to an explosive start. Sophomore shortstop David Hamilton, who struggled at the plate last season, got the nod from Pierce for the leadoff spot. On the very first pitch he saw, Hamilton hammered a ball to right-center field that hit midway up the wall by the 365 foot marker. Hamilton would get a triple, but would be stranded at third just as the Longhorns had done to Louisiana the inning prior.

In the third, Hamilton led off with a walk, and proceeded to steal second. A perfectly executed bunt single from junior second baseman Masen Hibbeler, one of his three hits on the night, moved Hamilton to third.

Two batters later, sophomore right fielder Austin Todd grounded to third, allowing Hamilton to score the first run of the Longhorns’ 2018 season.

Texas tacked on another in the fifth after one of Hibbeler’s other hits got the rally started. After his single, his stolen base, and a balk to get him to third, junior third baseman Kody Clemens laced a ball past a diving second baseman to score Hibbeler.

The day’s scoring was capped off by another Hibbeler run originating from another Hibbeler single and stolen base. With two outs in the inning, Todd popped a ball up to left field, an easy play for any fielder. For some reason, UL’s Todd Lott let the ball drop in front of him, allowing Hibbeler to score. That run capped off a 3-for-4, two run, two stolen base debut for the junior college transfer.

Junior Chase Shugart takes the mound tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. for the Longhorns. It will be Shugart’s first career collegiate start, and will likely result in his longest appearance as well. Shugart’s previous career-long performance was 3.2 innings in relief in the 2017 regional against Long Beach State.

David Pierce

Opening statement: It was just a great night all the way around. I thought we played great defense. Didn’t have too many difficult plays. Just outstanding pitching by Nolan and Beau got his first save. One thing that’s probably going to go overlooked a little bit is I thought our offense was much better than even the scoreboard. We got a lot of quality at-bats. There’s a lot of improvement to be made. Really pleased with some approaches. We want to reap some benefits, but at the same time, really was pleased with our offense as well.

On two strike hitting from Hibbeler, Hamilton, and Clemens: Both (Hibbeler and Hamilton) of them fought at home plate. I thought Kody’s at bat was as good as we’ve seen since we’ve been here. Gets in the hole early against a tough arm. Took some really borderline pitches, and was able to come up with the big hit. Hibbeler had a great night. David had a good night. Austin Todd kind of quietly had a good night with a couple of RBIs. Yeah, that’s what we like. I really like the speed one through five in there, too.

On Kingham’s performance: It was the best. You can go out and pitch eight innings and only pitch 89 pitches, that’s how you do it. That’s how you draw it up. I loved his tempo after the first. Beau (Ridgeway) slammed the door.

On Kingham’s performance from the third inning on: I think him and DJ (Petrinsky) and their timing, and getting the pitches from Phil (Haig), I thought they were out of sync. We had to kind of jump start DJ a little bit. Nolan needed the tempo, wanted the tempo, and made the great adjustment to get it. Once he started dialing in a little bit, he was tough. Lights out.

On Hibbeler’s debut performance: The thing is that I’d like to see four or five guys every single night having good nights. It was Hibbeler. It was David. Like I said, Austin. He’s a special kid. He’s got a great will about him. He’s very coachable. Just awesome to see him have a big night for his first win as a Longhorn.

On Hamilton’s first pitch swing: Great for David because he gets in the leadoff, he’s earned the spot, go out and get a pitch and be ready for it. He did a great job of handling it. Unfortunately we didn’t get him in but it’s a good start. When you’ve got that kind of catalyst at the top of the lineup, things click around it. It puts a lot of pressure on defenses and pitchers if he’s on first base.

On what he tells the team going forward from today: We’re looking at Saturday. We’ve got to expect a great start by Chase (Shugart). Everybody’s going to do their job and stay locked in.

On if he was tempted to send Kingham out for the ninth: Not at all. We gauged anywhere between 70 and 90. Thought about stressed innings versus non-stressed innings. He didn’t have a lot of stress. He was able to stay in the wind-up, so I thought it was just perfect. If I could draw it up, it happened. Really pleased with that.

On if he could have drawn up tonight any better: Heck no. How long did it take? It was perfect.

On having Shugart in the DH role to start the game: If we have the DH down in the lineup, there’s a good chance you’ll see somebody. Not Chase tomorrow.

On if Kingham will be the DH tomorrow: You’re thinking.

On why he has a pitcher in the DH role to begin the game: You’ve got a wind blowing in and a tough pitching staff. Can create some hitting issues, so you may be first and second, nobody out, it’s a good opportunity to bring up a bunt-type guy or a runner-type guy. That’s why we leave our options open.

Nolan Kingham (via Texas Baseball)
Nolan Kingham (via Texas Baseball)

Nolan Kingham

On the victory: It was awesome. Awesome going out there and going as long as I can. Just this group of guys, I think it’s expected. I think we’re just going to keep moving forward and build off of it.

On what clicked after the first few innings: The first two innings were a little bumpy. I think I was just more antsy and wanted to do too much. After that, I settled in and everything took care of itself.

On working quicker: I love going fast. Fast paced, quick outs, quick going, and let them get themselves out.

On getting the start tonight and opening the season with a win: I tell all the young guys and JUCO guys it’s just another game. It’s Opening Day. You can make it as big as you want. Just another game to go out there and have fun.

On if he asked to go out for the ninth: Opening Day, I was supposed to throw not as much. I didn’t realize I didn’t throw that much. I wanted to go, but obviously he said no.

On if he thought he was coming out before the eighth inning: I thought I was going six, seven maybe. I went eight, so I’ll take it.

On what worked on the mound: Usually I throw my sinker away and let everything run off that. I felt a lot more juiced up tonight, so I threw my four-seam across the plate a lot more and it was successful. Went with it.

On having David Hamilton behind him: Ball was up the middle, I thought I was going to field it. It missed me, and I was like “aww, crap.” I look up and D-Ham is on the other side of the base getting it. I was like “c’mon man, get him out.” It was a good field, good for him.

On the mood of the team for a season opener: We play every day and try to make the games not as big as possible. Just go out there and have fun. Even at practice we’re just having fun and playing with each other. There’s nothing like it.

Masen Hibbeler

On the win: It’s awesome. First game here, it’s a lot of fun. I found that out real quick.

On if this is what he envisioned at UT: It is. I just tried to stick with my approach and luckily it worked out. Keep it simple, and keep it rolling.

On facing the UL pitching: I like to get my swing off early. I try to take a big hack and drive the ball. If I get down in the count, shorten up and look to drive something the other way. That’s exactly what I did tonight.

On Kingham’s performance: Nolan was awesome. He had me excited out in the field and in the dugout. He’s just an awesome competitor. I love playing behind him.

On his speed: I wish I was as fast as D-Ham, then again our offense is real fast. We’re going to use that this year. It’s going to be something that plays well for us all year. We’re going to use it to our advantage.

On hitting behind Hamilton: It’s a lot of fun. We talked about how many RBIs I could get because he’s an automatic stolen bag if he gets on first. He’s just lightning fast. He’s crazy fast.

On his bunt single: It was kind of a modified drag bunt. Coach Pierce told me if David gets on, show. If the pitch is there, put it down. Luckily it just ended up in the right place.

On how this game sets the tone for the remainder of the weekend: It’s good to be 1-0. That feels real good. You always like to start out on top. We’ve just got to keep rolling, keep our approach simple and keep doing what we’re doing.

David Hamilton

On if he thought he hit a home run on the first pitch: Yeah, I did. I was kind of jogging around first.

On the confidence boost he got from that first at bat: When I got on third, I saw the whole dugout cheering and smiling. It was awesome. I loved the atmosphere tonight.

On what could be with him and Hibbeler at the top: Masen’s a good dude. He hits the ball all the time. Good infielder.

On the pitching and the scrappy approach the Longhorns took: If we can knock the pitcher out in the fourth inning like we did tonight, it would be awesome. Get the starter out and make the bullpen throw a lot of innings.

On Kingham’s performance: Nolan was disgusting. He was good last year, but he seems like a different animal this year. He’s going to be good.

On what might have changed with Kingham this season: Still the same dude.

On the run game: Our lineup’s got a lot of speed. I’m sure coach is going to try and create some more stuff because we’ve got good runners in the lineup.