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Texas had a unique opportunity on Sunday to avoid its first home series defeat of the 2021 season. Saturday’s game was stopped in the eighth inning with the bases loaded and the Longhorns trailing Texas Tech 5-3.
“I’ve never done that,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “I’ve had plenty of rain delays, but to actually go the next day and start a game as the home team in that situation was a weird setting.”
Silas Ardoin had to sleep on his pinch-hit at bat and come 1 p.m. on Sunday, knew Tech’s star reliever Ryan Sublette would likely be his opponent. He watched strike one. He watched strike two. He watched a questionable strike three, and Texas’ best threat of the restarted game was extinguished. The Red Raiders held onto the 5-3 win to take the Big 12 series.
From there, the task for the Longhorns became to avoid the sweep. The early stages of game three portended poorly for that goal. Starter Kolby Kubichek loaded the bases without retiring anyone in the top of the first, and Pierce replaced him with Pete Hansen.
Hansen escaped the jam with a 5-2-3 double play and a flyout to limit Tech to one run. Hansen then delivered yet another stellar performance, pitching 7.2 innings and allowing only one run in Texas’ 11-3 win.
“We talk about sweeping, we talk about winning series, and we talk about survival,” Pierce said. “Today it was a survival game. We did it with a statement, we did it with the short game, we did it with a grand slam, and just tremendous relief pitching by Pete.”
The Texas offense was sporadic in the first two games of the series, tallying three runs in both contests. They were a consistent threat in Sunday’s second game, scoring 11 runs including four via Douglas Hodo III’s seventh inning grand slam.
With the way Hansen was pitching, a handful of runs would do. After allowing back to back singles in the third inning, Hansen retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced. His run finally came to an end with back to back singles again in the eighth, but Aaron Nixon picked him up and pitched the last 1.1 innings to seal the Longhorn win.
Hansen allowed seven hits and one earned run over his 7.2 inning performance, striking out seven and not issuing a single walk. His fastball still barely touches 90 miles per hour but his command paired with an effective slider bewildered Red Raider hitters on a consistent basis.
“I especially felt it today,” Hansen said of the slider. “I didn’t really have a lot of time to get hot. I used the time that I had and I felt it in that bullpen that the slider is going to be my pitch today. I just ran with it.”
He also spent most of his outing pitching with a lead. Tech jumped to a 2-0 advantage heading into the bottom of the second, but Texas immediately got one run back with some help from, of all places, the sun.
Ivan Melendez skied a ball to right field but Easton Murrell could not pick it up in the air. It landed a few feet to his right, and Melendez hustled his way to third base for a triple. Murrell’s woes didn’t end there as his throw back to the infield was errant, and Melendez sprinted home for Texas’ first run.
Texas loaded the bases later in the inning, and Trey Faltine stepped to the plate with one out. He sent a ball to deep right centerfield. Tech’s Dillon Carter was a defensive menace all weekend to Longhorn hitters, but he could not snag Faltine’s hit before it contacted the base of the wall. Two scored on the double and Texas took a lead it would only build.
The Longhorns added one more in the second, another in the fourth, and two more in the sixth thanks to another Red Raider error.
In the seventh inning, Douglas Hodo III decided to make sure the margin expanded to a point the Red Raiders could not overcome. Hodo III swung and contacted the first pitch he saw from Levi Wells. It was hit decently but didn’t appear to threaten the fences. Then, the wind got a hold of it, took it, took it further, and took it over the left centerfield fence.
Texas recorded nine hits in Sunday’s second game, but those nine included several big blasts. It was pleasing to Pierce for his team to not get swept, and also to Hansen who used those runs to his advantage.
“It definitely was a must-win for us, but it was a game we knew we could go out there and take care of business,” Hansen said. “There’s no doubt in the clubhouse, no fear. More of let’s go get after it.”
The loss and TCU’s weekend sweep of West Virginia puts the Longhorns two games back of the Horned Frogs ahead of next weekend’s series. Before traveling to Fort Worth, Texas hosts Texas State on Tuesday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Cover photo courtesy of Texas Baseball