Members of the Texas dugout cheer after Travis Jones (11) hit a double at the University of Texas' UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin, Texas on Friday February 17, 2017. Daulton Venglar/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Baseball

Texas takes second straight game over UCLA on rainy night, 5-2

Posted March 12th, 2017

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It started pouring in the bottom of the first at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Not rain. Runs.

After a comeback win Friday night, the Longhorns led the entire game Saturday afternoon, in a 5-2 win over the Bruins. Four of their runs came in the first inning, where three straight doubles led to three straight runs.

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First, Kacy Clemens doubled to right center, scoring Travis Jones. Then Austin Todd doubled, scoring Clemens, and, finally, Ryan Reynolds doubled, scoring Todd.

After a minor offensive slump in three-straight loses to Stanford — the Horns scored a total of five runs in the three loses — Texas (11-6), it appears, has found a rhythm. This is now the fourth consecutive game the Horns have scored more than five runs. They’ve won all four.

“Really we just kind of relaxed,” said Reynolds, who also slapped a solo home run, his second this year, in the third inning. “To be honest, we were at the bottom, and we kinda figured we couldn’t get it much worse.”

No kidding. Texas’ batting average was at .232 before Saturday’s game, ranking 249th out of 295 in the NCAA. So, yes, the offense has found a rhythm, and, as coach David Pierce said, “they’ve got a lot of confidence.”

And, now, the Horn’s offense is starting to play as dominant as the pitching staff has all season. Texas’ team ERA is 18th in the NCAA this season, sitting at 2.55, and, Saturday, Morgan Cooper, who has a 1.89 ERA this season, got the start. He was dominant, and, for three innings, almost unblemished. Cooper struck out two in the first inning and the side in the second. He had a no hitter through two and two-thirds.

“He had his power stuff early,” Pierce said. But Cooper (2-0) didn’t just have the force from his 95 MPH fastball. He also had control of the strike zone and command of his curve ball and slider. Because it was raining for most of the game, Cooper went from something hard to the softer stuff, so the ball wouldn’t slip out of his hands. It worked. Since Cooper’s a fastball-dominant pitcher, UCLA’s batters stood in the batter’s box expecting the heat, but suddenly they got the curve.

“We started using the curve ball and the slider off of each other, to keep them off balance,” Cooper said. “So it was good to use those to get guys out as opposed to the fastball.”

In the third, a drizzle turned into a downpour. And, for Cooper, a breeze became a struggle. He walked three straight batters and threw seven straight runs. But the lack of command could be because the ball became even more slippery from the rain. The Bruins scored one run in the third inning and they scored another one in the fourth. After the fifth, and 117 pitches, Cooper’s day ended and it was up to the bullpen to finish the game. They did.

Texas used five pitchers for the remaining four innings. They didn’t allow a run. The only Bruins scoring threat came in the seventh, when UCLA loaded the bases with one out. Chase Sugart was the one who needed to escape the jam. He struck out the next two batters.

“They came in and they just got it done,” Cooper said of the bullpen. “The weather was crappy and they were switching balls ever other pitch and they grinded.”

The Horns can finish the sweep tomorrow, something they haven’t done since March 21-22 of 2015 against Kansas State. It’s not going to be easy, and it never is. But the way Texas is playing, it could start pouring again tomorrow.

“Tank tops and flip flops tomorrow,” Cooper said. “I don’t care if it’s raining tomorrow. We’re gonna get it done tomorrow.”

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