Texas entered a series finale against Cal in desperate need of a win.
What happened, instead, was one of the worst losses imaginable, a 10-7, 11-inning gut punch that left the Longhorns staggering out of UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Sunday on the wrong end of a four-game sweep for the first time in program history.
Trailing 7-0, Cal cobbled together two runs in the eighth and five more in the ninth to force extra innings before putting up a three-spot in the 11th. What’s worse, all seven of the runs in regulation came after Texas had gotten two outs, and if not for a rare fielding error in the ninth by first baseman Kacy Clemens, the Horns would have escaped with a one-run victory.
Heck, UT (5-7) would have settled for a tie, which was nearly the outcome because a time restriction meant the teams would not start an inning past 4 p.m.
“This is the most difficult game of all to lose because of the way we lost and the brilliant comeback (Cal) put together to make it happen,” UT coach Augie Garrido said.
This marks the first time a Texas team has been swept in 79 four-game series, which is not the sort of history the team had hoped to be making just 12 games into the season. Suddenly, a team that spoke in the preseason as if it had smoothed over the cracks that led to a 30-27 record last year is admitting some flaws.
“There’s gonna be some growing pains with this team,” junior catcher Tres Barrera said.
At first glance, it looked like some of those pains had been resolved in a 50-minute closed door discussion after Saturday’s 6-0 loss. The Horns came out aggressive on Sunday and needed just two innings to take their first lead of the series when Michael Cantu, who came in hitting .167 on the season, laced a RBI single to left. Another struggling hitter, Kody Clemens, followed in the fourth with a bases-loaded single for a 2-0 lead.
The explosion, or at least what qualifies as such on this team, continued in the fifth when Bret Boswell (3-for-5) tripled, and Kacy Clemens smoked his second home run of the series, a three-run shot to right.
“We feel like we took a step in the right direction today,” said Barrera, who made it 7-0 with a sacrifice fly in the seventh. “The won-loss record doesn’t show it.”
The loss went to Jon Malmin, who was among four relievers to have their fingerprints on this implosion with at least one unearned run. Following Connor Mayes’ best start of the year — six innings, five hits, no runs — Nick Kennedy came on and worked a clean seventh before giving up two runs in the eighth. Freshman Chase Shugart continued the slide, giving up five softly hit singles in the ninth before Clemens’ error at first tied the game. Shortstop Bret Boswell moved to his left for a great stop and then threw a one-bouncer to Clemens, a defensive specialist who makes tricky plays look routine. Yet the ball bounced out of his glove, freeing pinch-runner Daulton Jefferies — Cal’s starting pitcher on Friday — to continue running from third to home.
In all, UT’s relievers allowed 15 base runners in five innings.
Clemens’ error was the culmination of a sloppy weekend defensively for the Longhorns, who started three different players in left field because of mishandling of fly balls.
“I’m not sure I love baseball,” Garrido said. “It’s really cruel. It’s a tough mistress.”
After pitching a 1-2-3 10th, Jon Malmin allowed a one-out walk in the 11th and was replaced with Travis Duke, who gave up consecutive RBI singles to Brian Celsi (4-for-6) and Ripken Reyes. Cal’s final run crossed on a throwing error by Boswell.
“We couldn’t have lost in a more painful way,” Garrido said.