Golden: With critical TCU series on deck, Texas showed resolve in avoiding sweep
Horns sit at 35-11 overall and 13-5 in the Big 12
- Texas avoided the sweep with an eight-run win.
- Sophomore LHP Pete Hansen entered in relief in the first inning and earned the win.
- Coach David Pierce said Hansen will replace Kolby Kubichek in the weekend rotation
The Texas Tech experience wasn't ideal, but the Texas Longhorns learned something about themselves over the weekend.
Resilience resides in the home locker room at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
If winning the Big 12 was to remain a realistic dream, the path would have gotten a lot rockier had they been swept by the 11th-ranked Red Raiders.
They persevered, thanks to a long-relief performance from left-hander Pete Hansen and some timely hitting that had been missing to walk out of a lively Disch-Falk with an 11-3 win in Sunday's series finale.
With a showdown series coming up at first-place TCU starting Friday, the Horns are in great position to regain their spot atop the Big 12. Their streak of nine straight series wins is no more, but the response in the third game will reap benefits down the road, perhaps up the road in the Metroplex in a few days.
Losing the series didn’t kill the the Horns, but winning on getaway day might make them stronger come the postseason.
The great Muhammad Ali said it best. “Success is not achieved by winning all the time. Real success comes when we rise after we fall.”
Stripped of his heavyweight title for three years and not permitted by the government to make money overseas after he refused induction into the military during the Vietnam War, Ali returned and suffered a devastating loss to Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century, a showdown that will always be remembered for Frazier’s sledgehammer left hook that dropped Ali in the 15th and final round.
Obviously dazed from the blow, he rose from the canvas after a split-second, and in that moment, the sporting world realized that Ali was much more than a trash-talking pretty boy who danced around the ring while other heavyweights stood toe to toe. He took Frazier’s best punch and got up.
Fifty years later, that fight still serves as a learning tool.
After going 17-2 in April, the Horns were dealt two consecutive conference losses to open this month, a pair of results that surely had them doing a bit of soul searching before Sunday's finale.
Baseball is a different sort of contact sport and the Horns weren’t making enough of it for much of the weekend, though we must give major props to Tech's defense, especially center fielder Dillon Carter who made several acrobatic catches in some of the biggest power alleys in the country.
To their credit, the Horns showed real resilience on a sunny and windy afternoon when it could have all gone south after a near disastrous start. They answered the bell against a great opponent that’s aiming to make it to its fifth College World Series since 2014.
“We dealt with some adversity the entire weekend and most of it didn’t go our way,” said coach David Pierce. “We talked about it after the short game today and just said, ‘Look, we’re going to deal with some adversity throughout the season.’ Great teams do. There’s different periods of the year that you go through this and it’s just what it is. It’s about how we’re going to respond.”
Tech had delivered several big shots to Texas’ bread basket over the weekend, rocking UT starters Ty Madden and Tristan Stevens for a combined 11 earned runs over 11 innings in the first two games. Having already lost the series, things went from bad to worse when Game 3 starter Kolby Kubichek loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning.
Pierce didn’t hesitate to make the switch because Kubichek has been struggling lately. Hansen got the call, and was he ready, giving up a single run and seven hits over the next 7 2/3 innings.
He earned the win and a spot in the weekend rotation in the TCU series, and while explosive offense showed up for the first time in the series — Trey Faltine’s two-run double broke an 0-for-18 drought with runners in scoring position before Douglas Hodo’s seventh-inning grand slam broke it wide open — it was Hansen’s early shutdown of the Red Raiders that set the tone for the game and perhaps the rest of the season.
At 13-5 in conference play, Texas is within good striking distance of the 15-3 Frogs, who moved up to No. 3 in the country after sweeping West Virginia. The Horns have all the motivation they need after their least successful weekend of conference play.
Faltine said the Red Raiders have been to places the Horns want to go, and if Omaha turns out to be their final destination, they will remember Sunday as the day their resolve was severely tested.
There are six conference games remaining and other tests will reveal themselves before the conference tournament, but the Horns are in a good place because they share the same mental approach to playing winning baseball.
“The tougher team is going to win — not always, but most of the time,” Hansen said. “I think that’s what we’ve been kind of good at all year, and it’s being tough. The mindset we have and the toughness is what’s going to carry us a long way. These guys want it, man, and I want it. It’s fun to be a part of it.”
This will be a real test coming up. We'll see if the Tech experience can fuel this bunch moving forward.