Baseball

Texas 12 Fairfield 2: Longhorns advance to Super Regionals thanks to Pete Hansen’s spectacular performance

Entering Sunday’s regional final, Texas was in a position of strength when it came to pitching. Tristan Stevens and Ty Madden delivered stellar starting outings and the Longhorn offense provided double-digit run support on Friday and Saturday. Few of Texas’ main bullpen arms were used and were fresh and available for Sunday and a potential Monday game.

Plus, Pete Hansen was on the mound. The Longhorns’ Sunday starter has been ace-level in recent weeks even with the presence of Madden and Stevens. Meanwhile, the Fairfield Stags were low on quality arms. After three games, the Stags were forced to trot out Jack Erbeck, who was making his first appearance of the entire season in front of 6853 fans at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Hansen sent Texas into the Super Regionals with one of his strongest performances to date, going 6.2 innings and giving up six hits, two runs (one earned), and striking out a career-high 13 hitters while walking zero. The Longhorn offense scored early, posting 10 runs within the first three innings in Texas’ 12-2 win.

“That was a dominating performance,” David Pierce said of Hansen. “Best stuff. Best fastball. Best slider. You never know. The kid’s never pitched in a postseason game and the COVID freshman just goes out and dominates against a team that has had success.”

Teams like Fairfield may have one or two quality arms they can rely on to potentially steal one game in the NCAA tournament. Sometimes two if the second is having a good day. But options four, five, and six at a school like Fairfield rarely have the repertoire to challenge players from a high-major program, especially when needing to win two games.

“They just ran out of pitching, I can tell you that for sure,” Pierce said following the game.

The disparity when it came to hurlers was evident in the opening half-inning. Texas, playing as the road team, loaded the bases against Erbeck who struggled wildly with command. He issued four walks in the inning, including a bases loaded walk to Douglas Hodo III, which would be the final batter he faced. The Longhorns could not add another to their tally, as Jason Hebner relieved Erbeck and struck out Trey Faltine to end the threat.

Hodo III’s RBI was all the run support Hansen needed. His career-high mark in strikeouts was a result of all three of his pitches being effective versus the overmatched Stags. His fastball crept up to 90 mph at times, his slider was sharp, and his change up was a reliable third pitch against the MAAC at-large team.

Rarely was Hansen physically taxed. Early rallies in the second and third innings of four and five runs apiece meant he had plenty of time on the bench to recuperate. Same with the pitching changes. Fairfield marched seven pitchers to the mound from the left field bullpen, and few if any could find the zone. Stag pitchers threw 205 pitches on Sunday and only 104 were strikes.

“Obviously, I think the score lines really showed the kind of ballclub we are,” Hansen said. “I think we really took care of business.”

Seventeen times Longhorns were either walked or hit with a pitch. Cam Williams was hit three times. Mike Antico walked three times, setting up his four stolen base evening. Texas put four on the scoreboard in the second when Antico’s safety squeeze was executed perfectly and brought in Eric Kennedy. Then, Zubia singled to bring in Antico. Williams brought home Zubia with his own single, and Texas had a 5-0 lead.

In the third, Zubia legged out a ground ball to avoid an inning-ending double play to drive in Silas Ardoin. One of Williams plunks was productive as it occurred with the bases loaded to score another. Hodo III busted the game irreparably with a three RBI triple.

Fairfield responded in the bottom half of the third with two runs, but Texas struck back in the fifth when Trey Faltine scored two with an RBI single.

No Stag pitcher offered much consistency or effectiveness, but they did record 10 strikeouts of the Longhorns. Meanwhile, Lucas Gordon retired the only batter he faced in relief of Hansen in the seventh, Cole Quintanilla completed his inning of work with a swing and a miss on a 98 mph fastball, and Aaron Nixon, who Pierce referred to as “Quadzilla,” allowed one hit but otherwise had no issue.

It’s unlikely Fairfield saw many high 90s pitchers during the course of its 39-5 run during the 2021 season. Once they saw them in Austin, they stood little to no chance considering their own arms were depleted.

But Hansen, still struggling to hit 90 mph with his fastball, was the most effective UT pitcher. He recorded swings and misses plenty and received a well-deserved ovation from the UFCU Disch-Falk Field crowd when Pierce replaced him in the seventh.

“Just watching his confidence as such a young pitcher, he’s really very, very young still,” Pierce said. “For him to be able to go out there and calm his nerves, huge crowd, and just go compete, was fun.”

And, luckily for Texas, the team traveling to Austin for the Super Regional is not No. 15 Florida, who was eliminated from the Gainesville regional. It’ll either be South Florida or South Alabama, teams of a differing skill than Florida.

Those games won’t begin until Friday, and Texas isn’t ready to start preparing for either the Bulls or the Jaguars just yet. Pierce mentioned the team has an off day tomorrow before getting back to work.

Pitching depth is the most important part of deep postseason runs. It’s doubtful either squad awaiting Texas has someone like Madden, or Stevens, or Hansen available.

But Texas does, and Hansen led a pitching charge on Sunday night that should put the remaining teams in the tournament field on notice.