Bohls: Streaking Longhorns dominate Gamecocks, sweeping the SEC team
- Texas has put its ignominious 0-3 season start behind it but hasn't totally forgotten it.
- The Longhorns are looking like a complete team, getting consistently solid pitching and timely hits.
- Kolby Kubichek didn't have great command but threw well in clutch moments to build some trust.
There’s a wild rumor going around these days that the Texas baseball team started out 0-3 this season.
True or not — and that ugly start out of the gate is indeed factual — the 19th-ranked Longhorns have rebounded with a fury.
They made it clear they have put that winless weekend in that season-opening tournament in Arlington behind them, but as head coach David Pierce reminded them, that doesn’t mean that early season stumble was forgotten.
“We still remember Arlington,” Pierce said Sunday. “It keeps us very humble and very locked in. It's a tough game, and we didn't start the way we wanted. After that, we had a meeting there in the tunnel and basically said we're going to remember this every single day. So I think it's really important that players mature and grow as we continue to go through this grind of a season that we all love.”
It’s obvious Pierce’s Longhorns learned well from those stinging defeats because they have come on strong and are rounding into great form, just in time with Big 12 play set to begin this Friday with a three-game series at hot-hitting Baylor.
Texas put the wraps on one of its best home series in two years by crushing 12th-ranked South Carolina from the same SEC that humiliated the Longhorns in Arlington.
They not only swept the Gamecocks, but did so in embarrassing fashion by holding them off for an 8-5 win on an overcast Sunday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field and completing a dominant, three-victory performance. The Longhorns are looking comfortable and confident in every phase of the game and are playing very much like a complete team.
Winning five consecutive games to improve to 11-5 will do that.
Never trailing except for a half-inning in the entire series is as good an indicator as any that Texas is coming off as one of college baseball's better teams.
Keeping in check a South Carolina team that came into Austin with a swagger and a 11-0 record and boasted one of the nation’s best power hitters in Wes Clarke will bolster a team’s psyche.
And getting overpowering pitching and allowing just six runs in three games — just one in the first two games — will stoke any team.
OK, so Clarke's a guy whose muscles have muscles. And he went deep for his ninth home run of the season on a solo shot and flied out to the warning track another time. But otherwise, the Longhorns constantly got critical outs and kept the Gamecocks in the yard.
But this just isn’t the same Texas team that fell to Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas in February, striking out 46 times in three games. The Longhorns did strike out 25 times against South Carolina but in only 12 at bats the last two games. Instead, they played contact baseball, got a couple of home runs on Saturday and kept the pressure on Sunday with 11 hits — five of them along with three RBIs coming with two outs — as well as four stolen bases. Everyone in the lineup had a hit.
“I think we were definitely looking forward to this,” said senior catcher D.J. Petrinsky, who had a two-run single in Texas’ four-run fourth inning to take command of the game. “We got it handed to us by three SEC teams (in February), and I think we're definitely ready to go this week.”
The pitching has been there as was expected and was again when it allowed the Gamecocks just six runs in three games. Two of those runs came in desperation in the ninth inning Sunday as they attempted a rally that fell short as Longhorn reliever Aaron Nixon coaxed a game-inning grounder for the final out. Nixon got his first collegiate win on Friday.
Poised freshman Tanner Witt continues to shine, recording his first win as a Longhorn as well and striking out six in just three innings, including David Mendham with two in scoring position in the seventh. Cole Quintanilla followed with a successful inning to renew the staff’s trust in this potential-riddled right-hander before Nixon came on to close.
While starter Kolby Kubichek wasn’t in the zone as much as Ty Madden and Tristan Stevens were the two previous days in stuff or results, the sophomore right-hander was clutch in his four innings.
He struggled mightily with his location, walking a pair and hitting three batters. But Pierce showed considerable faith in him in a 4-2 game and left him in the game for an at-bat against Clarke, who struck out with two men on. That’s a confidence-boosting move that should pay dividends down the road, because the moment is seared into Kubichek’s memory bank.
But as many lessons Texas has learned in the first quarter of the season, it could easily be reminded it swept another SEC team, powerful No. 2-ranked LSU, at the Disch in 2019 almost exactly two years ago. Texas rode Austin Todd’s walk-off RBI single in the ninth for a 7-6 victory for huge momentum on that Sunday. That Longhorn team, however, had its struggles on the road, couldn’t hang onto late leads and finished 27-27 and dead last in the Big 12.
That seems so long ago, not unlike a few losses to SEC teams more recently.
And now a month after that ignominious beginning, Texas is moving forward in a positive way and building one win at a time.
“I felt like there was zero panic from the staff, and zero panic from the team when we went 0-3,” Pierce said. “It was humbling. But we handled it the right way, we didn't feel sorry for ourselves.”
Now, they’re leaving that hollow emotion to the opponents.