- After recording just one hit all of last season, sophomore Patrick Mathis opened the season with three extra-base hits on the first weekend
- RHP Morgan Cooper made his first appearance since the 2014 College World Series. He missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery.
- A UNLV runner never reached third base after the first inning
It was a bit odd when Texas coach Augie Garrido announced his lineup for the first weekend of the season and Patrick Mathis was penciled in at No. 3.
Mathis, a sophomore right fielder, had just one hit all of last season, so there was little outside reason to believe he was ready to take on such a responsibility.
Yet after one series, Garrido looks wise and Mathis looks every bit the part of power hitter after clobbering two home runs against UNLV, including a solo blast to open Sunday’s 7-0 series-clinching win over the Rebels.
So what did Garrido see in Mathis to entrust in him the third spot in the order? Nothing. It’s what Garrido heard.
“If you’re around the batting cage, you can hear the ball come off his bat different than the others,” Garrido said. “That’s what big-league hitters are made of because you don’t know why, all you know is what you hear.”
Mathis added a double in the third inning and finished the weekend with three hits and three walks, bringing his average to .273. His home runs in the series were the only two for the Longhorns, who scored 20 runs, totaled 28 hits and attempted to distance themselves from the offensive struggles that derailed last season. Interestingly, hitting coach Tommy Nicholson has ceded his duties coaching third base to pitching coach Skip Johnson so that Nicholson can have more interaction with batters.
“The communication is at a higher level, and he has a calming effect on people,” Garrido said about Nicholson’s new role. “It’s a better place for him.”
By producing at the plate on Saturday and Sunday, Mathis is forgiven for the fielding mistake he made in the eighth inning of Friday’s 12-inning loss when he took a bad route that resulted in two runs for UNLV.
Mathis’ home run on Sunday traveled out to left center — an opposite field blast by the lefty from Venus High School. It came on a fastball low and away from UNLV starter Ben Wright, who was tagged with the loss.
“When I swing, I want to swing with authority,” Mathis said.
Another positive for the Horns was the return of Morgan Cooper, who was overpowering in his first pitching appearance since the 2014 College World Series. Cooper, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, worked the seventh and eighth innings and allowed just one base runner via a walk. His velocity is back, evidenced by Cooper reaching 94 miles per hour on the radar gun.
“He has pitched with absolutely no fear,” Garrido said.
UNLV, which finished below .500 last year and is picked to finish fifth in the Mountain West, squandered its best shot to take the series when it left the bases loaded in the first. Andrew Yazdanbaksh, who homered in the first two games of the series, had the green light on a 3-0 count and softly grounded out to second. It was a big win for Texas starter Connor Mayes, who had loaded the bases with two singles and a walk.
“That was a big surprise that he swung away,” Garrido said. “But I can understand why the coach is going to be aggressive early in the year.”
A UNLV base runner never reached third again.
Mayes, from Lake Travis High School, has had better days than this one, when he walked three batters, including one to start the fifth inning before getting pulled. Travis Duke, the first of four relievers, came in and earned the win.
Mayes struck out three and scattered four hits. Duke, Nick Kennedy, Cooper and Chase Shugart allowed just two base runners combined over the final five innings.
UT built a 3-0 lead in the second on RBI singles by Kody Clemens and Travis Jones, who made his first start at third base and had two hits.
Two more runs came in the fifth on RBI singles by Tres Barrera, who was bleeding from the eye after getting hit by a ball in the on-deck circle, and Kacy Clemens. And yet another two runs came across in the seventh on Michael Cantu’s double down the left-field line and another single by Clemens.
Clemens had an interesting encounter with umpire Jon Bible to end the fifth inning when Clemens, with both feet, hopped on first base for the final out. Bible, who earlier in the inning ruled that Clemens pulled his foot on a double play, took issue with Clemens’ showing him up and stared into UT’s dugout at Clemens during the inning change.
Watching nearby from the field suite was Clemens’ father, Roger.