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When Texas traveled to Houston for a three-game series with its former Southwest Conference rival, it made sure to bring good pitching. Longhorn hurlers allowed five runs over the weekend, with Ty Madden tossing a two-hit, complete game shutout in the first game of the series.
Fellow starters Tristan Stevens and Kolby Kubichek turned in solid performances, too. Kubichek earned the series-clinching win on Sunday with his 6.0 inning, nine-strikeout performance on 99 pitches.
UT needed every pitcher, not just the starters, but relievers like Tanner Witt, Aaron Nixon, Jared Southard, and Cole Quintanilla, to be on their game considering the Texas bats could not be relied upon versus Cougar pitching. Aside from a single mistake pitch thrown by Nixon on Saturday resulting in a walk-off home run, the staff did what was necessary for the Longhorns to travel back to Austin with a series win.
“The pitching and defense has to be there,” Texas head coach David Pierce said Sunday. “We talked about that if we do those things, then it puts us in a position to have an opportunity to win the game. We’re not going to just drive the ball in the gaps every single day, but we can be constant with our pitching and defense.”
On Friday, Madden provided one of the best starts of Pierce’s tenure. He struck out 14 and allowed just two hits during his 110-pitch outing.
Stevens pitched well despite a struggle-filled second inning Saturday. He was charged with two earned runs, but one of those two crossed on an RBI triple against Palmer Wenzel after Stevens had left the game.
On Sunday, Kubichek utilized ample run support to pitch aggressively, and struck out the last batter he faced in the bottom of the sixth after loading the bases with two outs.
“Strikes are key, strikes with stuff are even better,” Pierce said. “I thought Kolby was great at doing both, and I really thought our defense is continuing to play good, solid baseball.”
Madden, Stevens, and Kubichek all have multiple years of experience within the program, but Witt and Nixon were placed in high-leverage situations within the first month of the first season of their collegiate careers. On Saturday, Witt pitched 2.1 innings of shutout baseball including an escape of a jam in the sixth.
It was the result of Wenzel failing to record an out in relief of Stevens. The very first pitch he threw was sent to the fence in deep right center for a game-tying triple. Luckily for Wenzel, Witt was able to pick him up and end the sixth inning with the game tied.
Nixon entered in the bottom of the ninth and pitched through the ninth and tenth with little stress. He recorded an out in the top of the 11th before leaving a slider up to Tyler Bielamowicz, who crushed it over the left field fence for the walk-off.
The timing of the mistake was brutal, but Pierce saw progress from his two freshmen over the weekend and learned when he should bring in Wenzel.
“I think Nixon and Witt are built right, and they’re going to be guys that we can count on,” Pierce said. “Wenzel, we’re finding out too he’s probably a little better in a clean inning.”
So now, Pierce must find out who he can bring into the game when there are multiple runners on and the opponent is threatening. His typical candidate for the role is no longer available.
“It’s been Tristan Stevens, and I’ve been pulling him out in those situations,” Pierce said. “Maybe we ought to just let him figure it out in the sixth inning.”
He didn’t learn who could fit in that role on Sunday after Texas hitters enacted a much-improved approach at the plate. UT scored four in the first, three in the fourth, and added one more in the ninth via a Trey Faltine solo home run.
With plenty of runs to work with, Southard and Quintanilla combined for 3.0 shutout innings to end the game.
The bats didn’t show up in full, but the arms were consistent enough for a series win against the Cougars.