Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Pierce’s Longhorns make some history, grab title

Texas sweeps TCU to win Big 12 baseball championship.

Posted May 19th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Texas Tech's sweep of Oklahoma State puts UT alone at the top.
  • Second-year coach David Pierce guides Texas to first baseball championship since 2011.
  • Second baseman Kody Clemens hits his 19th homer as UT boosts its chances of hosting a regional.

If memory serves, they used to light the UT Tower for conference championships around here.

It’s been a minute. Lots of ’em actually.

While Texas has been saving on light bulbs for much of this decade, the school will gladly spring for some extra voltage because it has an actual, real live Big 12 title in a team sport to celebrate.

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The football team hasn’t won one since 2009, bless Colt McCoy’s heart.

The basketball squad’s last one came during a D.J. Augustin-led Elite Eight run in 2008, and it was shared with some team from the Midwest.

Eddie Reese’s swimmers have claimed four consecutive national championships, but don’t really count them in this debate since they’re not mortal. Besides, we’re talking titles won on dry land. John Fields’ golfers captured one just a spring ago. Same for the men’s indoor and outdoor track squads.

Kody Clemens, right, of UT, celebrates with Andy McGuire after Clemens hit a two-run homerun in the first inning against TCU at Disch-Falk Field on Saturday May 19, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So, relatively speaking, this hasn’t happened in a while in the big sports, and second-year head coach David Pierce and his staff and players should take a well-deserved bow, especially after last year’s major league baseball draft took 11 players off the roster.

Thanks to a sweep, the UT baseball team clinched its first regular-season league championship in seven long years by totally dominating TCU, which has served as the league standard recently. Texas trailed for just four of the 27 innings and took the third game comfortably 7-3 Saturday before 7,294 rowdy fans at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

And it wasn’t all Kody Clemens, for once.

Oh, the heavy-hitting junior second baseman got in his licks with a two-run homer in the first inning — his third deep fly in four at-bats over two games — but he had plenty of help.

From his teammates. Four other Longhorns drove in a run Saturday, none bigger than Duke Ellis’ two-run single to left in a five-run fourth inning.

And reliever Kamron Fields, who came on in a pivotal fourth inning and, after a walk to load the bases, escaped unharmed with a pop-up for the final out.

And from Texas Tech, which was Texas’ victim last weekend but offered the Longhorns a huge assist by sweeping first-place Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., and denying the Cowboys so much as a title share.

Jake McKenzie of UT hits a double in the fourth inninag against TCU at Disch-Falk Field on Saturday May 19, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But it would have been academic on this graduation day if not for one of Texas’ best offensive performances, with 11 hits, including an RBI triple from slow-footed D.J. Petrinsky and a single smashed off the first baseman’s glove by shortstop David Hamilton.

“First of all, we’re not finished,” said closer Andy McGuire.

This could be the start of something big.

Home sweep home for a Texas club that was picked in the preseason poll to finish third behind top choice Texas Tech and TCU, two teams that lost five of six games to Pierce’s Pluggers. Texas won six of its eight Big 12 series and had three sweeps.

“Awesome,” athletic director Chris Del Conte described it. “They stuck together. It’s amazing what happens when belief comes around.”

Of course, this is about so much more than a Big 12 title at a school that used to ho-hum about things of that nature. It’s a program that dogpiles only in Omaha, Neb., but Saturday’s win was an awfully important step to perhaps returning to that city because this could punch Texas’ ticket as a regional host.

“I think in my mind there’s no doubt we should host,” Pierce said. “We have an unbelievable résumé, and we’re playing great down the stretch.”

It would stand to reason that the Longhorns deserve one of the top 16 berths considering they’ve gone 28-9 since a mediocre 9-9 start. Sure, they haven’t been dominant on the road and are just 14-13 against RPI Top 50 competition, but their RPI has climbed to 14, and it is peaking at absolutely the best time.

It’s been a team long on shaving-cream pie celebrations and clutch hitting, and this series was no different with a sensational power display from the amazing Clemens. He’s now hit 19 homers, the most since Kyle Russell in 2008.

“Kody can just flat out hit,” Pierce marveled.

For a team that’s not supposed to be average, given so many jucos and freshmen and players in new roles, Texas has wowed. The Longhorns have flowered into a gutsy, gritty club that hits so much better than any burnt-orange team in recent memory and pitches well when it has to.

Like Nolan Kingham’s complete-game six-hitter Thursday, Chase Shugart’s solid outing after a disastrous first inning Friday and bullpen performances from McGuire and, on Saturday, a very effective Fields.

The Longhorns entered this final series with the fifth-best pitching numbers in the Big 12 and, even worse, the sixth-ranked hitting team. And this is in a nine-team league. But they were the ones celebrating as Clemens hoisted the Big 12 trophy in front of the largest crowd of the season.

“You know,” McGuire noted, “it’s heavier than it looks.”

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