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The No. 2 Texas Longhorns put their own backs against the wall with Wednesday’s 5-1 opening round loss to West Virginia. Seeking to avoid going two-and-cue in the Big 12 Tournament for the second time in as many appearances, David Pierce needed someone to make their mark on the game after failing to find the man for the job on Wednesday.
Tristan Stevens answered the call. The right-hander recorded a six-inning outing for the 11th consecutive start, limiting the Oklahoma Sooners to one earned run on four hits over 7.0 innings. Stevens struck out four, walked two, and hit one batter across his 102 pitches for his conference-best ninth win of the season. Aaron Nixon, pitching for the first time since May 9, threw two shutout innings to close out his eighth save and Texas’ 4-1 win.
“It was very critical,” Pierce said postgame of Stevens’ performance. “Just watching the kid compete, he’s much tougher than most people know and what he does every single week to prepare for this is off the charts.”
The Longhorns advance to play the winner of the game between West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Inclement weather delayed all scheduled Thursday contests following Texas’ win, and the schedule for the remainder of the weekend has yet to be announced.
Oklahoma falls to 27-28, all but ensuring the Sooners’ absence in the NCAA Tournament.
The Sooners created traffic on the base paths in the first three innings, advancing runners into scoring position in all three at bats. They only amassed one run out of their efforts via an RBI single by Conor McKenna in the third. That base hit would be the only OU hit with runners in scoring position (1-for-5), and one of two hits all day with runners on base (2-for-14).
That RBI created a small stir in the dugout once Stevens completed the third. Pierce let Stevens know he thought the right-hander should have thrown a slider to McKenna as opposed to a sinker. Pierce said Stevens then “popped off,” and added he “kind of liked it.”
Stevens told Pierce he was convicted to the sinker, and that Pierce has repeated throughout the year he should throw pitches he is convicted to.
“We kind of went back and forth on it,” Pierce said, smiling. “But it’s all good.”
The discussion must have inspired Stevens. From the fourth through seventh innings, he mowed down Oklahoma hitters. Two Sooners reached base in those four frames, one via a single in the fifth and another on a leadoff walk in the seventh. Stevens struck out the Big 12 leader in hitting, Tyler Hardman, to strand Breydon Daniel in the fifth inning, then fanned McKenna with his 102nd pitch to complete his outing.
“It wasn’t really the prettiest game, but we got the job done,” Stevens said. “And that’s what this team can do. Tomorrow, we can put up a 10 spot for all we know. We’ve got to take it one game at a time.”
Nixon didn’t appear to look rusty after his near three week layoff. He allowed a single and a walk in his 2.0 innings, but Oklahoma hitting was unable to inflict any damage against the McAllen freshman. They barely made contact against Nixon, striking out four times in their final eight plate appearances.
His relief performance brought relief to the Texas bullpen. The Longhorns pitched two of their top three bullpen arms against WVU, and Nixon’s two-inning save should mean Cole Quintanilla is available Friday (or whenever Texas’ next game is played) following an eight-pitch outing on Wednesday.
Despite scoring four runs, Texas needed every bit of good pitching Stevens and Nixon could provide. Longhorn hitters struck out 17 times against Sooner pitching, one short of the season-high 18 they set opening day versus Mississippi State. Sooner reliever Wyatt Olds baffled Texas hitters, striking out 11 in 5.0 innings of relief.
“He didn’t make many mistakes,” Pierce said of Olds. “Probably the biggest mistake he made was he hung the slider to Zub’ that got the RBI and I think the third run. He’s lights out. 94-97, plus slider. I don’t know why we keep seeing all this stuff. It’s good stuff.”
Each team recorded five hits and an error. Zach Zubia had three of the five UT hits. The Longhorns left 11 runners on, including four in the second inning when Silas Ardoin’s strikeout left the bases loaded.
The Texas bats still have not made the trip to Oklahoma City, and though Olds’ outing deserves credit, Texas expects more from its offense.
Ardoin produced a run one inning earlier in the second, driving in Douglas Hodo III with a sacrifice fly. OU tied the game in the third with McKenna’s single, but the Longhorns took the lead back in the bottom half when Hodo III drove in Mitchell Daly with an RBI double.
Zubia brought Mike Antico home in the fourth when he singled to center to make it 3-1, and Texas added an insurance run in the eighth when Hodo III scored on a wild pitch.
Texas arrived in Oklahoma City with the goal of winning the Big 12 Tournament title. As Ty Madden said earlier in the week, they believed following up a regular season title with a tournament title would qualify as “pure domination” of the conference.
That goal is still intact, and it continues to motivate the Longhorns for as long as they stay in Oklahoma City.
“We’re obviously disappointed with the loss yesterday, and we thought that we didn’t showcase what we were capable of, why we were the Big 12 champs,” Stevens said. “We’re here to prove why we won the regular season.”