Baseball

Texas 9 SFA 1: Hansen tosses 6.0 shutout innings, Melendez continues hot streak in Horns’ fifth straight win

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Midweek baseball games for power programs often becomes a sort of testing ground. Whether it’s testing new lineup combinations, trying out a player at a new position, or gaining more data on certain hitters and pitchers, those details sometimes are just as important as the events of the game.

For Texas, amid all the change and experimentation that occurs during its midweek games, there is a new constant in who throws the first pitch week after week. Pete Hansen, a 2020 freshman All-American, has made Tuesday (and in this case, Wednesday) nights his night on the mound.

The Texas Longhorns dominated the SFA Lumberjacks from start to finish. The final score was 9-1 in the Longhorns’ favor, and the result was all but assured after the fourth inning.

Against the Lumberjacks, Hansen pitched a career-high 6.0 innings, allowing two hits and three walks while striking out three. No SFA player crossed the plate during his outing, which was credited with the win.

Hansen also threw 82 pitches, another career high. After missing some time in the off-season due to COVID and experiencing dead arm earlier in the 2021 season, Hansen has settled in and become a reliable fourth starter for the Longhorn baseball program.

“Defensively we had a couple of blunders, but I thought Pete did a nice job of going six innings,” Texas head coach David Pierce said after the game. “Potentially could have went seven, potentially could have went eight if we had taken care of the ball there. But overall, he was good.”

The combination of his early season arm issues and missed practice time due to COVID meant Hansen was not going to be sitting in the low 90s with his fastball this year as he did during his freshman season. It topped out in the mid-80s versus SFA, a small step back after finally touching 90 mph against Texas A&M in College Station last week.

Despite the lack of velocity typically associated with All-American pitching, the California left-hander remains effective in the middle of the week. He faced one truly difficult inning in the second when a two-out error and back-to-back walks loaded the bases for SFA’s Bryan Burgos.

Hansen settled in to record the third out thanks to Trey Faltine’s glove at shortstop.

Texas scored two in the bottom of the second inning, and around 25 minutes in real time passed before Hansen returned to the mound with a 4-0 lead. It was all the run support he would need as he cruised from the end of the third through the sixth without allowing a run.

Before being sidelined by COVID and arm problems, Hansen was a prime candidate to be one of Texas’ weekend starters. Instead, even with his diminished velocity, Hansen became the pitcher Pierce relies upon to limit the opposition in the middle of the week.

“He’s totally committed to getting better,” Pierce said. “He’s totally committed to this role that he’s in right now that’s helping the ballclub, being that fourth starter. I think he got better tonight, and I think that’s a key.”

Pierce identified a next step for Hansen to take. Hansen reached a two-strike count with nine different Lumberjack hitters on Wednesday. Three SFA hitters struck out and two grounded out, but four others reached via single, walk, or error.

“He’s going to get better, and I think the next step is him finishing at bats when he gets guys 1-2, 0-2,” Pierce said.

Hansen had plenty of help from his offense, specifically Ivan Melendez. The junior college transfer from El Paso extended his hitting streak to five games Wednesday with a first inning single but busted the game open in the fourth with a three-run home run to the opposite field. It was his third straight game with a home run.

“He mishits home runs,” Pierce said. “The one today, he was kidding with the guys on the bench and said he got jammed.”

Melendez drove in four Longhorns to lead the team Wednesday. Zach Zubia and DJ Petrinsky added solo home runs during the rout. Zubia drove in two total, and Cam Williams added an RBI as well. Those two are tied for the team lead in RBI with 26, Melendez not far behind them with 21.

“I would say the Horns are hot right now,” Melendez said. “We’re walking around pretty confident in the locker room.”

In relief of Hansen, Jared Southard, Coy Cobb, and Sam Walbridge allowed one run over the final three innings, with Cobb surrendering a run in the eighth.

Texas welcomes Kansas State for a Big 12 series this weekend, with first pitch Friday at 6:30 p.m.