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With the arrival of the No. 11 Texas Tech, a new challenge confronted the No. 3 Texas Longhorns. David Pierce’s team hadn’t faced anyone the caliber of the Red Raiders in over a month, and the weekend set versus the in-state rival carried with it major Big 12 Conference and postseason implications.
The Red Raiders strung together hits, played excellent defense, and tallied six runs to Texas’ three in a Friday night victory. Moving forward, the Longhorns now face a challenge they haven’t faced all 2021.
Texas Tech’s win is the first time this season a visiting team took game one of a weekend series versus Ty Madden at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. And now, Texas must win the next two games against the No. 11 team in the nation in order to maintain its position near the top of the Big 12 standings.
“We haven’t been in this position in a series, definitely haven’t been in this position at home,” Pierce said. “But we proved last week if we have to play a double header or whatever we have to do, we’re just going to have to reach down deep against a good team and go back to one pitch at a time.”
The Longhorns had several opportunities to score during the course of the game, but spectacular defensive plays by Red Raider outfielders saved multiple runs on separate occasions. No diving grab was more important than Dillon Carter’s in the bottom of the ninth.
Zach Zubia crushed a pitch from Connor Queen to deep left center. Carter laid out for a ball near the warning track and was able to make one of the best defensive plays made in the Disch-Falk outfield in 2021. Mitchell Daly was forced to return to first base and Zubia to the dugout after the second out of the inning.
“It was a nice play,” Pierce said. “I give the kid credit. He went out and made two good plays and the right fielder made a nice play. They went out and played good defense. They earned the win today and we didn’t.”
Those defensive plays were indicative of Texas’ day at the plate. Two of the three runs scored by the Longhorns could not be caught by Tech outfielders. Trey Faltine lined a home run over the left field fence in the third, and Mike Antico homered in the fifth. Both were solo shots, and Antico’s only cut the Red Raider lead to 6-3. Texas’ other run came a few at bats after Faltine’s dinger when Cam Williams’ hustle to first prevented a double play and allowed Daly to score.
“When we’re doing well from the top, it’s usually me getting on, Mitch getting me over, Zubia or (Melendez) knocking us in and it repeats throughout the order,” Antico said. “We didn’t have that tonight.”
Tech’s offense, as usual, was it strongest suit. But what was surprising was Madden’s day on the mound. He surrendered a career-high six runs, the most since a late-season outing at Kansas in 2019. A solo shot by Braxton Fulford opened the scoring in the second, and an RBI triple by Cody Masters in the fourth tied the game at 2-2.
One batter later, Masters scurried home on a passed ball. Tech took the lead and never surrendered it from there.
Madden was effective in the early portions of the game, reaching 100 mph on a first inning fastball according to the stadium gun and striking out six through the first three innings. But his velocity began to dip, his slider lacked its usual effectiveness, and Madden sleeps in his own bed as a losing pitcher for the first time this year.
“I don’t take anyway away from an offense that comes out and earns it, but Ty’s got a major blister in there and dealt with it all day,” Pierce said. “He just couldn’t overcome it. Couldn’t get the slider down. It was a concern probably in the third through the fifth and just what it was.”
Pierce said the blister has affected Madden this year, but it split open during the middle of the week for the first time. He mentioned super glue and pickle juice as a potential remedies, but neither of those likely can help the healing process mid-game.
Texas finds itself in an unfamiliar spot moving onto Saturday in an 0-1 hole, but Antico mentioned the team is viewing it as an opportunity to prove something they’ve not been asked to prove all year. They also are aware it may occur again down the road.
“We might lose the first game of a series, of a regional, of a super regional, and have to bounce back,” Antico said. “If you want to look at it that way, it’s good practice for that and it’s a good test for our team.”
Weather permitting, first pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m. Saturday. Television broadcast information had yet to be announced Friday night.
Whenever the game starts and whoever airs it, it’ll begin the biggest test of this Longhorn team since the opening series.