Bohls: Texas small-balls Fairfield to another rout to clinch the regional
- Texas relied on small ball with walks, bunts and hit batters to rout Fairfield 12-2.
- The Longhorns had just one extra-base hit, Doug Hodo's bases-clearing triple, but that was enough.
- Pete Hansen dominated with a wicked slider and great fastball to shut down the Stags.
Augie Garrido’s smiling somewhere.
Probably at a happy hour.
Yeah, definitely at happy hour.
He’d have been proud of the way the Texas baseball team went about winning the most important game of the year late Sunday night, a resounding 12-2 romp over overmatched and pitching-thin Fairfield to clinch the Austin Regional.
The Longhorns went small.
And came up big with 11 walks and six plunked batters, seven of them scored in yet another laugher.
Pete Hansen (9-1) made it work because he was spectacular in a game that required steely concentration. He went one out shy of seven innings, showed off a wicked slider and struck out a career-high 13 with zero walks. That takes some doing in a game where he’d go half an hour between mound trips, given the lopsided nature of the night.
“We’re just staying locked in,” said Hansen, who dominated a strong Stags offense. “The feeling in the clubhouse is confidence because we think we are the No. 1 team in the country, I believe.”
Coach David Pierce shared that sentiment, saying he loved Hansen’s swagger because “if you don’t think you’re the best team in the country, you have no shot.”
No. 2 Texas (45-15) didn’t give any other team anything close to a shot in admittedly one of the weaker regionals in the tournament with a team with a losing record in Southern, a relatively speaking, below-average Arizona State team devoid of its top three pitchers because of Tommy John surgery in February and a plucky, strong-hitting but pitching-deficient Fairfield club that finished the season at 39-5.
But that wasn’t the Longhorns’ fault.
They deserved an easier path as the overall No. 2 national seed and performed accordingly. They never trailed so much as an inning in their three weekend routs and scored double-digit runs in every game, scorching the field by a 33-5 margin indicative of their dominance. The 33 runs were the second most by a Texas team since the four-team regional format began in 1999.
And Texas once again showed it can win in different ways. That’s the real hidden beauty of this ballclub. It’s got power and it’s got panache.
Of course, all of the ways involve pitching and defense. This is Texas, remember.
Hansen was the latest in a long line of dominant performances as he combined with three relievers for the 15 strikeouts and blanked Fairfield for eight of the nine innings. Cole Quintanilla pounded the mitt with an electric 98-mph fastball in between Lucas Gordon and Aaron Nixon’s stints.
He followed Tristan Stevens and Ty Madden after their impressive outings and won the clincher under some unusual circumstances, considering he had about half an hour of rest after each of the first three innings.
No matter. Texas was going with little ball to thwart Fairfield and its seven pitchers.
Nine Longhorns made the 11-man all-tournament team, and Zach Zubia took MVP honors but he could have shared them with third baseman Cam Williams, Mike Antico or any of the Longhorns’ three starting pitchers.
But all the hitters were selective and disciplined at the plate and worked Fairfield’s staff to distraction.
“You can just wear down a pitching staff and frustrate ‘em,” Pierce said. “You can make them kind of miserable. Our short game has been there all year. You get ‘em running, and it just creates chaos.”
Antico stole everything there was to steal, swiping four bases and scoring three times as one of the premier leadoff hitters in college baseball.
Small ball definitely lives. It did Sunday night. Not that it ever really went away from this program.
Now Garrido didn’t exactly invent small ball, the strategy of manufacturing runs out of thin air. The thinnest of air, to be truthful. Cliff Gustafson, his predecessor, might have. But Augie might have perfected it.
And Pierce, the third head coach in that line of succession, is incorporating it as well.
On Sunday night, the tactics rose to art form.
The Longhorns walked six times, one batter got hit by a pitch, Antico stole two bases and he and Eric Kennedy had bunt singles.
All that in just the first two innings.
There were more free passes where those came from. By the time this contest mercifully ended, Fairfield pitchers ended up walking 11 batters in what amounted to a non-stop parade around the UFCU Disch-Falk Field base paths.
Those tactics led to an early 5-0 lead. It was over almost before it began.
Dramatic, this wasn’t. Not even a little.
Effective, yes. Very.
This was as emphatic a victory as you can imagine, but the Stags of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference were maxed out with pitching. Coach Brian Currier trotted out a redshirt freshman for his first college start and a pair of other pitchers who hadn’t thrown 10 innings all year.
Texas led 10-0 before Fairfield even got its first baserunner.
The Horns had just one extra-base hit among their nine, a bases-clearing triple by the swift-footed Doug Hodo III. And with runners in scoring position, Texas had just a single hit in 10 chances.
But still the Longhorns dominated. They are more definitely on a roll.
If anything, the three victories in this regional may have been too easy. Texas was never tested, but will get a much bigger challenge from South Florida or South Alabama up next.
Of course, of the top 16 seeds in this NCAA shindig, 13 started out winning their first two games. The only two that were knocked out were TCU and Florida, and the Gators’ demise affects the Longhorns since their Gainesville Regional sends its winner here to the Disch for this weekend’s super regional.
Whichever team that might be, it should prepare to field a bunt or two and be on alert for Texas’ very underrated speed. Oh, and the pitchers might want to throw a strike or two.