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Bohls: Texas recharges its offense to reel off three straight wins

Texas first baseman Zach Zubia legged out the first inside-the-park home run of his career in an 11-1 win over BYU on Friday night, one of three extra-base hits by the Longhorns. After struggling offensively to start the season, Texas exploded for runs in the BYU series.
  • Texas rebounds from ugly 0-3 start to win three in a row against BYU.
  • After scoring just seven runs in four games, the Horns put up 23 runs in last two victories.
  • The Longhorns using short game and plate discipline to manufacture runs.

So apparently the sky isn’t falling in on the Texas baseball team after all, and the season didn’t end in Arlington.

The Longhorns have BYU to thank for the perfect remedy.

Or rather BY-you was just what the Longhorns needed after a psychologically debilitating three opening losses in as many game to powerhouse SEC teams Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas. Those setbacks all came in the College Baseball Showdown, where frankly the Longhorns never showed up.

But Texas put that in the past and has moved on. 

And upward.

The 19th-ranked Longhorns, who had dropped 10 spots in the D1Baseball poll and were reeling after an ugly weekend in Arlington in which they scored only four runs in those three games, seem to have found their footing quite quickly.

On Friday night, Texas clobbered the Cougars for the second consecutive day, an 11-1 win powered by a masterful pitching performance from sophomore ace Ty Madden — probably his best ever as a Longhorn — and an offense that’s beginning to click.

Madden flirted with a no-hitter and was simply overpowering with his slider and a dominant fastball that clipped 98 mph. He struck out a career-best 11 in seven shutout innings and allowed just one walk, one hit batter and a lone infield single on which third baseman Cam Williams couldn’t make a play. Otherwise, the heralded right-hander was the ace everyone expects, and he will make for a great one-two punch with Pete Hansen this season.

“I was just trying to get locked in and stay locked in,” said Madden (1-1), who threw poorly in the season opener against Mississippi State. “I let my team down last week, and that’s not a feeling I like.”

Texas is always going to have solid, if not spectacular, pitching and usually great defense, but offense is the area that it must shore up to become a real contender. It has plenty of capable pieces with power in the middle of the lineup from Williams, Ivan Melendez and Zach Zubia and some speed as well.

“I mean, let’s face it: It was a tough outing in Arlington,” Texas coach David Pierce said about last weekend's three losses to ranked SEC teams. “And coming out of the gates, we faced some really Omaha-type stuff (on the mound). And I just don’t think we were ready for it. But we learned from it, and that’s the key because we want to keep getting better.”

In the Thursday and Friday wins, David Pierce’s Texas team racked up 23 runs on 22 hits, and it was looking for a sweep as it entered Saturday’s series finale with renewed confidence and an improved mindset. Better yet, Texas evened its record at 3-3 after a perilous first two games, winning Wednesday's series opener 3-1 behind only four hits and trailing 4-0 in the second game before eventually winning 12-6.

Pierce utilized the short game more than usual in the series, but mostly the Longhorns exhibited better bat control and ran the bases well with three stolen bases. Of their 15 hits in the 12-6 win, all but one were singles. 

On Friday, Texas had three hits for extra bases, including a double by a hustling Eric Kennedy, who was off to the races out of the batter’s box. Heck, the Horns even batted around one inning.

“I mean, let’s face it: It was a tough outing in Arlington,” Pierce said. “And coming out of the gates, we faced some really Omaha-type stuff (on the mound). And I just don’t think we were ready for it. But we learned from it, and that’s the key because we want to keep getting better.”

And they clearly have.

We’ll withhold judgment on whether Texas has turned the corner offensively yet. But it has shown considerable progress with better plate discipline — the Longhorns had 11 walks Friday night — and simplified, strategic hitting that emphasizes staying in the middle of the field and making solid contact.

“When we got back from Arlington, we kind of did a deep dive on what we thought we could do better as a team, and it's obviously been paying off,” said Zubia, who has raised his season average to .312. “I think we just got back to simplifying it a little bit and took a simpler approach. We’re not trying to do too much. I think we were trying to drive the three-run home run on every single swing in Arlington.”

While the Longhorns pieced together only seven hits off BYU ace Cy Nielson and three relievers Friday, six of them came in the first two innings, when Texas scored seven runs.

Why, things went so well for the home team that it hit a homer without even clearing the outfield fence. That honor belonged to the slow-footed Zubia, who snailed his way around the bases for a three-run, inside-the-park home run on a sinking liner that eluded BYU’s diving center fielder and rolled to the Disch-Falk Field wall.

His big hit in the opening inning followed singles by Mike Antico and Trey Faltine and set the tone for the early fireworks. Williams (.333) and Melendez (.278 with six RBIs) — the two most impressive hitters, along with Zubia and the clutch Antico in the early going — followed in the second inning with a bases-loaded, ground-rule double and a two-run single.

While BYU isn’t the kind of competition Texas faced at Globe Life Field or will see in the Big 12, the Cougars have won their conference three of the past four years and had several live arms.

This new patient hitting approach could pay dividends.

“It's just a team philosophy, and everyone's got to buy into it,” Zubia said. “I just hope that we can continue to show that we're a strong, resilient team. You know we could have crumbled after going 0-3 with a pretty poor offensive showing. But I like how this team's come back.”