Golden: Longhorns power surge is tearing up college baseball
The Horns improve to 10-2 in Big 12
- Texas scored 37 runs over the weekend.
Remember when Disch-Falk Field was regarded as a pitcher’s ballpark?
Nah, me neither.
Seriously, the cavernous Disch can still be a pitcher’s best friend on most days but when you bear witness to the freakish display of power we’re getting from the 2021 Texas Longhorns, even the biggest of parks can be reduced to band box status.
Texas roughed up Kansas State pitching for the third straight day and coach David Pierce has himself his own little power company with a second consecutive sweep and eight straight wins.
The 9-2 blowout completed an epic week of dominance at all levels, especially the kind of offensive surge that has made the No. 4 Horns must-see ball after a 10-2 start to Big play.
Sophomore Ivan Melendez, who homered for the sixth straight game, is the hottest slugger in all of college baseball and the 25-8 Horns are providing a spring ode to the old days of gorilla ball, when college baseball was dominated by names like Oklahoma State’s Pete Incaviglia in the 1980s and LSU’s Eddy Furniss in the 1990s.
Over the last six games, the Horns have scored 71 runs with 73 hits and 14 homers. The 37-run outburst over the weekend won't be the norm — no team can keep up such a torrid pace — but it's a fun ride from a terrifically entertaining ballclub playing as well as any team David Pierce has coached in his five seasons.
Unlike the gorilla ball era, today’s bats and balls aren’t nearly lively, but that doesn’t really matter when you’re in a groove like the one currently occupied by the player known as the Hispanic Titanic. Melendez hit two bombs and the first was easily the scariest. Just ask K-State right-hander Connor McCullough, whose near-perfect pitch up and outside the strike zone was deposited over the 28-foot centerfield wall in the fourth inning. Two innings later, McCullough erred with a breaking ball over the middle and Melendez hit it off the top of the scoreboard in left centerfield.
"He's strong and he's seeing the ball really well," Pierce said. "And he's not trying to do too much, believe it or not."
Melendez is the new ringleader in a power lineup that’s threatening to topple the school record of 81 homers set in 2010 by a 50-win team that also had five players that hit over .300, including eventual MLB catcher Cameron Rupp, who combined with teammates Kevin Keyes and Kevin Lusson to hit 39 of those 81 bombs.
The current team has 35 homers in 33 games.
The Hispanic Titanic was a nickname given to him by friends during a lifting session over the Thanksgiving holiday. One of the other options was the Executioner, a good one but already well used by boxing legend Bernard Hopkins. It's safe to say there aren't many Hispanic Titanics floating around. Texas' version has been a real iceberg to the opposition lately.
"Ever since Little League, I was one of the strongest kids on the team," he said. "My dad was a pretty big guy and he handed it down to me. And I'm a big weight-room guy."
Baseball people call it “easy power” when a player is effortlessly taking balls out of the park on the regular. After his first one cleared the monster, Longhorn Network commentators Greg Swindell and Keith Moreland — who are on the short list of greatest players in program history — admitted to being left speechless by the sheer display of power.
“He’s Mr. Melendez to me now,” Swindell cracked.
Rupp, who cleared the monster in 2010 when it was ‘only’ 20 feet high, was effusive in his praise during a text conversation.
“It ain’t easy what he’s doing,” he said. “He’s locked in and that offense is crushing right now. I hope he keeps it going.”
On a day when Texas got seven great innings from right-hander Kolby Kubichek, the offensive support was once again overflowing. Mike Antico's seventh hit of the weekend, a homer, put the Horns up 2-0 in the third and Melendez added a pair of two-run bombs — the latter in the sixth — to put the Horns up comfortably. The Wildcats finally realized a way to stop him. They intentionally walked him.
Pierce talks about presence in the batter's box and when an entire lineup is showing it from top to bottom, pitchers are looser, the defense is more solid and overall confidence is booming in the locker room. It's a real spectacle of balanced ball we're getting from this bunch.
The next six games are of the non-conference variety — against Nevada (2), Abilene Christian (3) and Texas State (1) — which will give Pierce a chance to experiment with different lineup combinations and rest those with nagging injuries while they try to keep this momentum going this weekend against Abilene Christian and when they resume conference play at Oklahoma State on April 23.
The Horns are tearing up the competition and show no signs of slowing down.