HOUSTON — Texas was able to finish its season-opening road trip successfully Tuesday night as the Longhorn bats erupted in an 11-4 victory over the Rice Owls.
The offense was the best it’s been during the young season as almost everyone on the team played a part in the 13-hit performance.
“It’s always great to see guys get on base and swing the bat well,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “I thought we let a few get away from us, really. The middle of the order was really good and I thought we had a lot of quality at bats tonight. It showed on the scoreboard.”
Playing in cold and misty conditions, Texas was able to score throughout the evening against almost all the pitchers new Rice head coach Matt Bragga sent to the mound.
The five-run third started with Texas down 1-0 after Rice’s Antonio Cruz gave the Owls an unearned run with his RBI single.
With one out and two on, freshman Eric Kennedy singled to left to bring home fellow freshman Bryce Reagan to tie the game. Sophomore Zach Zubia added a single to bring home junior Duke Ellis to give Texas a lead it wouldn’t surrender.
The game was busted open when senior DJ Petrinsky tripled to bring home two. He was awarded home plate when an errant relay throw made its way into the Texas dugout.
The Longhorns added another chunk of runs in the following inning when two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly brought home three.
Single runs were added in the sixth, eighth, and ninth innings. Zubia’s first home run of the season came in the sixth when he sent a pitch just to the right of the batter’s eye in straightaway center.
Kennedy tripled to start the eighth and was brought home by a single from junior Austin Todd. The eleventh run was added in the ninth inning when senior Tate Shaw’s groundout brought home one last Longhorn.
Both Petrinsky and Zubia drove in three, Todd brought in two, and Kennedy and Shaw each added one apiece.
“Back end of a road trip and the guys did a great job of getting themselves ready to play tonight in some bad conditions,” Pierce said postgame. “That’s a great sign. It’s a sign of maturity and it’s a sign of being ready to go against a quality team on the road.”
The pitching was a series of various breakthroughs for all arms used on the evening.
Rice threatened to get back in the game in the third inning when freshman Ty Madden got into a bases loaded jam in his Texas debut.
Madden showed a lot of promise with his fastball in the mid-90s and his off-speed working when thrown accurately. He was on the wrong end of several bad breaks (dropped third strikes, throwing errors, speedy Rice baserunners) and when he loaded the bases in the third, Pierce called on senior Beau Ridgeway to escape the situation.
Ridgeway made quick work of Rice’s Cade Edwards with a strikeout, fooling him on all three strikes.
“I could feel my nerves kind of getting up, but it was good nerves and good adrenaline,” Ridgeway said. “It just felt good, then I got to help my boy Ty out. It was nice for me and for him getting out of the jam.”
Ridgeway earned the win despite giving up three earned runs over 1.2 innings. His struggles never resulted in Rice seriously getting back in the game, and he was picked up by freshman Cole Quintanilla.
“This was really big for me,” Ridgeway said. “Last year was obviously a struggle. It was nice to finally get out here, break the ice, and get a good start to 2019.
Quintanilla was replaced by junior Donny Diaz. Both of those pitchers weren’t able to play last season due to recovery from injury. Quintanilla pitched 1.2 perfect innings, while Diaz gave up just one hit over two innings.
“I’ve waited a long time for this,” Diaz said. “It’s been a while.”
Diaz still isn’t 100 percent recovered from his injury. Many of his pitches were well below the 80 mph mark. However, Diaz recently told Pierce he was confident he could still get hitters out without his velocity being all the way back.
“I’ve got to get ahead in the count,” Diaz said about pitching through his current status. “I think I was working 85, 87 right there? I had to get ahead.”
That strategy worked in a situation he had been waiting to be in.
“Donny is just a great story right now,” Pierce said. “He’s been working for a year and a half to get back on that mound.”
Pierce said he planned to throw Diaz just one inning, but he made quick work of it and rewarded him with the eighth.
“It’s something I’ve been looking forward to quite a bit for quite a while,” Diaz said of his outing.
Sophomore Kamron Fields bounced back from his rough season debut with a perfect ninth.
Texas returns to Austin this weekend to host Purdue for a four-game set.
“It’s been a long road trip, but it’s been fun,” Ridgeway said. “I feel like we’ve been gone for about two weeks. I’m excited to get back to the Disch and give our fans something to watch.”