No matter the sport, every year some athlete or coach will say his team is peaking. He will typically say it as the season is coming to an end — after a stretch of performances that lead to multiple wins. That’s the team they’ve worked to become all season. That’s how good they can be.
The Texas Longhorns believe they are peaking; they are becoming the team they’ve worked to become all season. At least that’s what Blair Henley thought after Texas beat the Baylor Bears 4-1, completing the three-game sweep, Sunday afternoon at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
“I would say we’re peaking,” Henley said. The junior had just tossed seven innings of one-run ball and earned his fourth win of the season. “But we’ve had it in us this whole time, and it’s now coming together.”
Kody Clemens’ RBI single and Zach Zubia’s two-run homer in the first gave Henley a three-run lead. That was enough. Aside from allowing a home run in the second inning, Henley dominated as he has all season. He allowed five hits and three walks, and he lowered his ERA to 2.92 — the best among the Horns’ starters. He commanded his fastball and kept his pitches low, forcing groundouts and high flyouts.
“He was good all day,” UT coach David Pierce said. “Then late, when it started looking like he started cheating away from the outer half, he started mixing some pitches in.”
Whether Texas is peaking, as Henley said, at this moment is tough to tell. Texas (22-12, 9-3) still has 21 games left this year and four three-game series left against Big 12 opponents. But what can’t be argued — at any barbershop or water cooler — is this: The Horns just finished off their second three-game sweep of the season. They are riding a season-best six-game winning streak and have won eight of their last 10.
They are in second place in the Big 12, trailing the Oklahoma Sooners, who will host Texas for a three-game series next weekend that could determine who will have the top seed in the Big 12 Tournament. But first, Texas will travel to College Station for a midweek game against Texas A&M.
“Come on, Longhorns versus the Aggies, it doesn’t matter if it’s in a parking lot, midweek, super regional, it’ll be fun,” Pierce said.
After pitching a scheduled three innings Tuesday, Henley was good to go for as long as Pierce would allow. He recorded the first four outs on only eight pitches and looked as if he was in command from the start. But after getting behind 3-1 to third baseman Davis Wendzel, Henley threw him a fastball down the heart of the plate. Wendzel hammered it over the wall in left.
“Early on (my fastball) wasn’t how it should have been,” Henley said. “I realized that I had to keep it low and away.”
Henley, however, had already received all the run support he needed for the day. In the first, junior center fielder Tate Shaw led off with a walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Masen Hibbeler. Clemens then slapped a 2-2 offering from Bears starter Ryan Leckich back up the middle to bring Shaw around to score.
Then Zubia walked into the batter’s box. He had reached base in 32 straight games entering Sunday. He made it 33 when he crushed his sixth home run of the season into the grass behind the scoreboard.
That was all Henley needed Sunday. He cruised through the rest of his outing, receiving help from his defense whenever he needed it. The Horns might or might not be peaking, but one thing is certain: If they are, then they could be scary. But if they aren’t, they will be even scarier when they do.