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The Longhorns are not a team that scoreboard watches.
When they are engaged in the game, they understand the opponent in front of them is the most important thing. But they aren’t ignorant of the goings on within the Big 12 Conference. David Pierce’s club knew should TCU lose its series-opening game versus Kansas State on Thursday night, Texas could move into a tie for first place in the Big 12 with two regular season games to go.
The Horned Frogs lost to the Wildcats just before 9 p.m. Simultaneously, one of several missed Texas opportunities that defined a 5-4 West Virginia win took place.
On an errant pitch from WVU reliever Jacob Watters with one out in the seventh, Cam Williams started running from third to home. The ball caromed directly back to catcher Matt McCormick as he attempted to recover it, and he tossed it to Watters covering the plate.
Watters and Williams arrived at home at the same time, and umpire Doug Williams ruled the Longhorn third baseman just reached the plate with his fingertips ahead of Watters’ tag to tie the game at 5-5. But the umpires reviewed it and overturned the call on the field, taking a run off the board and returning the score to its eventual result.
“He didn’t touch the plate is what I was told,” Pierce said postgame.
The play at the plate sticks out due to how close it was and the decision to overturn it, but it was one of many moments where Texas could have generated a rally but failed to do so. Texas left 11 runners on base Thursday evening, including multiple occasions with two runners in scoring position.
In the third, Trey Faltine struck out looking on at offering from WVU’s Jackson Wolf with Longhorns on every base. This came after the Mountaineers re-took a 3-2 lead in the top half of the inning. Texas loaded the bases again in the sixth and sent Zach Zubia to the plate. Zubia lined out to the first baseman, and the play took him to the bag where he doubled off the runner to extinguish another bases loaded threat.
The overturned call took place in the seventh, and Texas battled to put the semblances of a rally together in the ninth inning when pinch runner Dylan Campbell was on third and Williams was on second with two away. Watters reared back and fired a 3-2 fastball past Douglas Hodo III to complete WVU’s game one win.
“We just didn’t get it done,” Pierce said. “We scored four runs, we gave up three home runs, and they scored one more than us tonight.”
As a result, Texas remains one game back of TCU in the Big 12 regular season standings with two games to play.
The Longhorns squandered chances and amassed only four runs. In contrast, the Mountaineers created runs via the long ball against Texas ace Ty Madden.
WVU designated hitter Nathan Blasick hit a two-run shot in the first inning to take an early lead. Madden struggled to command his breaking pitch in the opening half-inning, and Blasick crushed a 1-1 fastball over the right centerfield to open the game’s scoring.
Madden surrendered another gopher ball in the third on the 12th pitch of Paul McIntosh’s at bat. The at bat’s seventh pitch was called a ball even though it was close to the strike zone. An inconsistent zone dotted Williams’ evening, but this close decision upset the season-high 2521 person UFCU Disch-Falk Field crowd. Five pitches later, McIntosh sent the ball over the fence to take the lead.
Madden gave up his season-high third homer when Kevin Brophy hit a solo shot in the fifth. WVU scored one more run in the sixth when Victor Scott doubled to drive in a runner from second who reached second on an error.
“I thought he was fresh,” Pierce said of Madden. “He had no complaints going in. He gave us 101 pitches. He gave us a chance to win, but it wasn’t his best night.”
Pierce revealed a few weeks ago Madden was dealing with a blister on his throwing hand. He said postgame he had not heard “one thing” about the blister during Texas’ time off and in the lead up to the game. Madden was frustrated following his third loss of the year, leading Pierce to offer him a few words of encouragement.
“I said, ‘Ty, you’re not Superman,’” Pierce said. “You’re going to have a bad night. We’ve got to do a better job of picking you up. It’s what it is. He’ll learn from it and he’ll be better next week.”
Texas scored two in the first when Williams drove in two with an RBI double, one in the fourth via Mike Antico’s solo home run, and one in the sixth when Silas Ardoin scored from first via an error resulting from an Eric Kennedy bunt single.
Tanner Witt pitched three perfect innings in relief of Madden.
With two regular season games remaining, the task of passing the Horned Frogs becomes more difficult. K-State starter Jordan Wicks posed the biggest challenge TCU bats would face all weekend in Manhattan, and the odds of two more losses to the 9-13 Wildcats are long.
To have any chance at an outright Big 12 crown, Texas must turn things around and take the next two games of the series. It’s a result they’re striving for regardless of what occurs in Kansas.
They aren’t naïve. They know what’s at stake, but they’ve already played TCU this season. They have to defeat West Virginia Friday and Saturday to have a chance.