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Golden: Passionate Disch-Falk fans are back, but Texas didn't deliver

Texas dropped to 38-13 and 15-7 in Big 12 play.

The University of Texas this week lifted its mask mandate for all athletic activities, including the Texas-West Virginia baseball series at UFCU Disch-Falk Field and the NCAA softball regional at McCombs Field. About 2,500 fans showed up for Thursday's baseball game.
  • The Horns left the bases loaded twice without scoring
  • Staff ace Ty Madden gave up three homers.

They didn’t pack UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Thursday night, but you can believe a full house is coming faster than you can say “Austin Regional."

Not lost in the 5-4 loss to West Virginia in the opener of this final regular-season series  was the unbridled passion of the fans who waded through months of Longhorn Network broadcasts while waiting for the opportunity to return to their beloved ballpark.

The state has been 100% open for business since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask mandate in early March, but the University of Texas waited until this week — kudos to athletic director Chris Del Conte and President Jay Hartzell for playing it safe — to  make the stands at the Disch and McCombs Field fully accessible to fans.

It’s a move that is perfectly timed with the baseball and softball programs slated to host regionals these next couple of weekends.

West Virginia 5, Texas 4:Longhorns miss out on a chance to catch TCU in Big 12 baseball title chase

The baseball team just received a small sample of what promises to be a raucous atmosphere when the playoffs start in two weekends.

“I thought the energy in the stadium was awesome,” UT coach David Pierce said. "The fan base we had tonight, if we can continue to have them ... support this team, we’re going to feed off of that. I thought we did a nice job. We didn’t make any major mistakes. We just didn’t win the game.”

That was to the disappointment for a crowd of just over 2,500 that sounded like 10,000 at times.

Texas head coach David Pierce called the atmosphere at UFCU Disch-Falk Field for Thursday's West Virginia game "awesome." The Horns lost 5-4 but could still win the Big 12 regular-season title.

“It was nice to hear that energy and have the fans have our backs.,” first baseman Zach Zubia said. “It always sucks to not be able to pull out a close one like that one at the very end.”

Texas losing to the Mountaineers with staff ace Ty Madden toeing the rubber wasn’t something anyone expected, but the locker room should take it as a subtle reminder with the postseason coming up that even the best teams can get stung by a heavy underdog.

That said, the No. 2 team in the country hasn’t lost many games to teams that it should work. On Thursday, the Mountaineers, who were crushed 22-6 over three games at home by league-leading TCU earlier this month, ably played the role of giant killers with timely hits and some great relief pitching down the stretch.

And they did it in a hostile environment of fans hungry for live baseball who roared with approval when Cam Williams slid in safely to home plate with the tying run in the seventh inning and then erupted in fury when the call was reversed after a review. They applauded after each of Madden’s nine strikeouts and scratched their heads in bewilderment when the All-America candidate was touched up for three homers in one of his shakiest outings of the season.

The biggest news was the Horns hurting their chances of winning a Big 12 regular-season title outright. Making matters worse was failing to take advantage of TCU’s loss at Kansas State.

They have to be better than 2-for-13 with runners on base and 0-for-2 with the bases loaded after hitting .325 with the bags full during the season.

Clutch cleanup hitter Ivan Melendez, he of the “prodigious clouts,” as described by longtime Longhorns radio voice Craig Way, struck out four times, including a whiff in the ninth with the tying run aboard.

Texas pitcher Ty Madden was saddled with the loss against West Virginia on Thursday after giving up three homers. The Horns can still win the Big 12 but will need some help from Kansas State against TCU.

Madden had nice numbers in the "K" department, but didn't have his best stuff location-wise. The big right-hander has been nails for most of the season but can’t allow his early struggles to follow him into his next start, which will presumably be at the conference tournament.

While Madden was up and down, freshman right-hander Tanner Witt came on and retired nine straight batters with the type of velocity and poise that should have us all excited not only about what he will do next season but also in the upcoming postseason.

If anything, the Horns should thank the heavens this wasn’t the first weekend in June and that West Virginia wasn’t an unheralded No. 4 seed that just pushed a team many expect to make it to Omaha to the brink of elimination on opening night in its own stadium.

Lessons can be learned from failure, and there were plenty to go around in this one.

Losing to a team that will have to win the conference tournament just to make it to the NCAAs wasn’t an embarrassment because the Mountaineers played really well in all three phases, save for a pair of errors in the sixth that left the door open for a comeback.

West Virginia obviously rose to the occasion in a great college baseball atmosphere and just gave one of the best teams in the country a wake-up call two weeks before the real money games start.

Just like playing at home in front of a packed house, losing can be a tremendous motivator.