Bohls: Texas takes care of business with near-perfect 11-0 opening win over Southern
- Texas puts poor Big 12 Tournament showing behind it with strong regional opener.
- Ivan Melendez, Mitchell Daly have solid comeback after subpar Oklahoma City performance.
- Tristan Stevens in total command to save the bullpen, keep it fresh.
What Big 12 Tournament?
The Texas Longhorns quickly put behind them that subpar showing in the conference tournament a week ago when they couldn’t hit water from a rowboat, made an error in every game and lost as many games as they won in Oklahoma City.
David Pierce need worry no more that the poor performance would carry over into this weekend’s NCAA regional at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Yeah, a 6-0 lead in the second inning and a stress-free outing from pitcher Tristan Stevens spelled a routine 11-0 victory over fourth-seeded Southern on Friday afternoon. Ivan Melendez crushed a solo home run over the left field wall, Zach Zubia had three singles and a sacrifice fly, and Mitchell Daly struck the big blow, a bases-clearing double in a four-run second inning. Cam Williams added a two-run shot in Texas’ final at-bat.
By the time this one mercifully came to a conclusion, five Horns had a pair of hits or more.
"Ivan got a pitch he handled well. And he hit it a long ways," Pierce said. "I think he's going to have a good weekend, and if he stays confident, he can hit like this the rest of the way."
As for that rough conference tournament when the Longhorns hit .181 as a team and struck out 47 times in four games? It’s been long since forgotten. The Longhorns struck out five times Friday.
So now Texas’ regional tournament starts Saturday night.
In essence, that’s what happened after the national No. 2 seed Longhorns dispensed with totally overmatched Southern and appeared totally locked in and comfortable in their own digs. In game one as a decided favorite over a team with a losing record (20-29), you need to avoid the upset and save your best pitching.
So now the tuneup is over, and the real action begins as Texas advanced to Saturday night's winners’ bracket and will face the survivor of Friday’s Fairfield-Arizona State evening game.
On this day, the plan went like clockwork.
Team won the game.
Hitters got their confidence back.
Bullpen was saved.
Crowd was back.
That said, it wasn’t perfect baseball.
Shortstop vacuum cleaner Trey Faltine made a rare error, his seventh of the season, which means the medical staff must be on alert. And then a second fielding error, making everyone wonder who had stolen his uniform. "He's been incredible," Pierce said. "He'll be ready to go."
Texas loaded the bases with nobody out in the third, yet nursed one run out of it after a double play and a groundout, and Zubia struck out with the bases loaded in the seventh.
I think one Longhorn had his jersey untucked.
Otherwise, yeah, Pierce’s club checked all the boxes. And even looked smart by saving ace Ty Madden for Saturday night and starting Stevens, his No. 2 pitcher. The senior right-hander came out smoking, retiring 12 of the first 13 batters and throwing seven solid scoreless innings.
The first-team All-Big 12 pitcher has, in many ways, been the equal of Madden, the conference pitcher of the year and a sure first-round pick in this month's MLB draft. Greg Swindell, the three-time All-American and probably the best pitcher in school history not named Burt Hooton, said in our “On Second Thought” podcast that Stevens had actually been the Longhorns’ most efficient pitcher this season.
“He’s been Texas’ best pitcher all season,” Swindell said. “Ty will be a top-10 draft pick. But Tristan’s been the most consistent. He’s gone six innings or more in all of his starts.”
And by pitching such a clean game, Stevens used a short workload to possibly preserve some pitches for him later in this regional and kept the front-line bullpen pitchers fresh for more serious games. Palmer Wenzel and Jared Southard finished up an overpowering outing from Stevens.
The power sinker ball pitcher maximized his pitches, didn’t walk a batter, struck out six and allowed the Jaguars just four hits in seven scoreless innings en route to Texas' fifth shutout of the season.
It might not have been the perfect game, but it was whatever is a close second. Texas made it look easy as it rolled to its 28th home win in 33 tries.
"Our motto is own the Disch," Stevens said. "We live by that."
Texas showed a resurgence at the plate, but that could have been helped by playing at home and facing a pitcher making his fourth start with a 1-2 record and a 6.95 earned run average.
Of the big early lead, catcher Silas Ardoin said, "That was huge. We wanted to come out and make a statement."
That they did.
The Longhorns were eager to make amends, none more so than Melendez, Daly and Williams. Melendez had a single hit in 10 at-bats with nine strikeouts in Oklahoma City while Daly was hitless in 11 plate appearances.
"Let's be honest," Pierce said, "the stuff was different than what we faced (in the Big 12). We have to learn from this."
On Friday, however, Melendez hit his 12th home run of the season, and Daly had the biggest hit of the game. The strikeouts were held down. And Texas didn’t go in order in any inning.
But things did return to order.