Texas 15 SHSU 9: Longhorn bats awaken, but one might be on the shelf for some time

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Every Longhorn starter save one recorded a base hit during Texas’ mid-week victory over Sam Houston State. UT scored at least a run in all but two innings, plating a season-high total in a 15-9 win. SHSU’s big sixth inning brought the Bearkats within a run, but Texas’ effort at the plate over the sixth and seventh innings put the game out of reach.

The Longhorns won the game, and learned several lessons, good and bad, about its pitching staff. But an event on the basepaths cast a cloud over the Tuesday win.

After recording his second base hit of the evening and advancing to second base in the fourth, Austin Todd took his lead. SHSU reliever Coltin Atkinson turned and attempted a pickoff at second base, and Todd dove back for the bag.

He was ruled safe, but something went awry in the process. Todd was slow to get up and quickly called for the trainer. Before head coach David Pierce could make it out to check on his player, Todd was already headed for the Texas locker room.

When asked about the play after the game, Pierce’s tone turned despondent when providing his answer.

“Everybody hurts for Austin right now,” Pierce said. “He just can’t seem to stay in that rhythm and stay healthy. It’s just so unfortunate for him because he’s right. He comes up with two hits. We’ve all seen him work. He’s really good”

The reality of the situation is Texas may be without its senior right fielder and presence at the top of the lineup for some time.

“He’ll get an MRI tomorrow at 3 o’clock,” Pierce said. “I don’t know the exact status, but I think he separated it. We’ll see what the docs have to say about it.”

Todd made a return to the lineup in Houston over the weekend after straining an oblique early in the season. He hit third in the lineup on Friday and Saturday, then moved to the leadoff position on Sunday in the series-clincher. He was leadoff again on Tuesday.

Mike Antico led off on Friday and Saturday then dropped to third in Texas’ most recent games. Antico, who was 1-for-3 with two walks, a hit by pitch, and four runs Tuesday, might be settling into the third spot in the lineup. His veteran presence provides Pierce with some measure of flexibility at the top of the order.

“He’s comfortable in both,” Pierce said. “He’s hit in the leadoff more, but the way we handle him, Eric (Kennedy), potentially Todd or (Douglas) Hodo, they could potentially be considered a 123 in any kind of order.”

“It’s best with him in the three there, and we may leave Hodo in the one just because he’s a runner. He can steal a bag.”

Despite losing one of its veteran leaders, Texas poured the runs on the Bearkats. After Pete Hansen allowed a run in the top of the first, Texas scored four runs in the bottom half of the inning. Antico scored on a wild pitch. Ivan Melendez drove in two with a single. Cam Williams brought in one with a double, as did Zach Zubia.

UT scored one in the second, three in the fourth, and two in the fifth to take a 10-2 lead. Sam Houston State would charge back, bludgeoning Texas to the tune of seven runs in the sixth off Drew Shifflet, Dawson Merryman, and Tanner Witt.

“If we could just start going from the fifth to the seventh inning, that would be much more appreciated,” Pierce said in reference to his team’s recent struggles in the inning.

Texas would respond with one run in the bottom half, then four runs in the seventh to take a six-run lead. Zubia recorded his fourth and fifth RBIs of the night with a double that landed on the warning track in straightaway center.

Witt settled in during his second inning of work, and Lucas Gordon ended the game in the ninth with a 123 inning.

Hansen took the victory in a four-inning declared start after leaving last Tuesday’s game with “dead arm.” He has worked to build his arm strength since the fall through several pauses, including an admitted bout with COVID-19 at the beginning of the year.

“I thought Pete did well,” Pierce said. “He’s still not there yet, but he’s gaining more confidence and getting more confident on the mound and probably could have went one more.”

Texas welcomes undefeated No. 12 South Carolina to Austin this weekend for a three-game series. Without one of their top hitters, the task of taking the series will be tough.

There will be some moving around at the top of the order they wish they didn’t have to do.