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HOUSTON – Facing its first significant test of 2020, Texas battled but faltered against No. 11 LSU, losing 4-3 in game one of the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic.
The Longhorns suffered their first loss of the season after Tiger reliever Jaden Hill struck out six in three hitless innings to record the save. LSU starter Cole Henry struck out 10 and allowed four runs over 6.0 innings to earn the win.
“I don’t know why Hill is in college to be honest with you,” Texas head coach David Pierce said complimenting the LSU sophomore.
Only one Longhorn, Duke Ellis reached base while Hill was on the mound. He walked in the eighth inning and advanced to second on a stolen base with one out. The two batters following him, juniors Zach Zubia and Cam Williams, both struck out to put an end to the only threat Hill faced.
Hill bewildered Longhorn batters with a four-seam fastball that registered 97-98 mph on the Minute Maid Park radar gun. Texas hitters didn’t just struggle with the hard stuff; they struggled with everything Hill offered.
“The thing with Hill is not only did he throw the fastball but he was able to hit with his breaking ball,” Pierce said. “When you’re seeing that kind of velocity, you’re going to chase some breaking balls because you’ve got to release early to get to the fastball.”
Prior to Hill’s entrance, Texas managed three runs against Henry. Senior DJ Petrinsky launched a pitch just short of the ballpark’s signature train tracks for a four-bagger in the top of the third.
Texas tied the game 2-2 later in the inning when Zubia hit a sacrifice fly to center field plenty deep to score freshmen Brenden Dixon from third.
Elder retook the mound in the third and went on a three-inning tear. Two Tigers in a 10-batter stretch reached base, both via walk. One was erased by a caught stealing, the other was stranded when Elder netted a groundout to end the frame.
In the sixth, Texas was reminded of how small the margin for error becomes when facing teams that have the pedigree of a six-time national champion as opposed to a team coming off a 40-year layoff. Giovanni DiGiacomo reached on Texas’ only error of the game on a ball Zubia could have left for his second baseman, Dixon. The next batter grounded into a fielder’s choice, bringing up Tiger cleanup hitter Daniel Cabrera.
Elder said after the game pitching coach Sean Allen called for a slider for the first pitch of the at bat, but Elder shook Petrinsky in preference of a change up.
Cabrera sent the pitch to the vacant seats in right field, giving LSU a 4-3 lead.
“I think change up was the right pitch,” Elder said. “I just left it up.”
Elder took the loss after a 6.1 inning performance where he allowed six hits, four runs, walked two, and struck out 10.
“His stuff was good,” Pierce said. “He knows he wants that change up back that Cabrera hit out. That’s what he gives us, he gives us opportunity. We faced two really good arms tonight as well.”
Freshmen Sam Walbridge and Dawson Merryman combined for 1.2 innings of scoreless relief.
Cabrera’s home run provided the winning runs for the Tigers, but a call overturned by review in the second inning gave LSU the opportunity to add to their tally early.
Elder surrendered a single to Cabrera and a triple to Saul Garza that bounced off the left field bullpen. He struck out the next two hitters before Cade Doughty came to the plate.
With a 0-1 count, Doughty chopped a ball to freshman shortstop Trey Faltine. Faltine fielded the ball and fired to Zubia at first, and umpire Jason Milsap called Doughty out. Texas thought the threat was extinguished. They were incorrect.
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri requested a review. The call appeared close, but it did not appear to be one review would overturn. It was overturned, and Doughty’s single allowed Garza to score the Tigers’ second run.
Pierce said he received no explanation behind the call. He was only told that Doughty was safe.
The replay process for the College Classic was different than the one Pierce is accustomed to. At UFCU Disch-Falk Field or at other Big 12 ballparks, the umpires on the field go into a replay room to look at the overturned call, rendering the decision themselves.
In Friday’s case, a replay official upstairs made the decision and told the umpires via headset what it was, akin to Major League Baseball’s review system.
“It made no sense to overturn it,” he said. “No sense at all. Thought it was a really poor use of our replay.”
The quality of competition doesn’t drop off for the now 9-1 Longhorns. They’re set to face No. 6 Arkansas on Saturday, who dropped their first game of the Classic 6-3 to Oklahoma but still has a plethora of elite talent on the mound and at the plate.
Pierce hopes his team is able to bounce back well from the first setback of the young season.
“I think right now they’re ticked off,” Pierce said. “I hope they are. They’ve got that right mentality. They’ve got that passion. They’ll be ready to go tomorrow against a good Arkansas team.”
First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Minute Maid Park.