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'Omaha in March': No. 1 Texas bests No. 17 Tennessee in Shriners College Classic opener

Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman
Texas celebrates Silas Ardoin's score against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Feb. 23. The undefeated Horns won again Friday night, beating Tennessee 7-2.

HOUSTON — For the first time since the 2009 season, Texas is 10-0.

Texas waited out the Tennessee pitching staff in a 7-2 win at Minute Maid Park on Friday night. In its opener at the Shriners College Classic, Texas remained undefeated in front of an announced crowd of 16,515.

The victory gave the top-ranked Longhorns their first signature win of the year. Texas had outscored Rice, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Alabama and Sam Houston State by a combined 72-10 over its first nine games, but that quartet of unranked opponents went 110-109-1 last season.

Tennessee, meanwhile, was a College World Series qualifier in 2021. The Volunteers (8-1) were ranked 17th in this week's D1Baseball poll.

"I knew it was going to be a tough environment for them just because we've got some kids that have never played in (this environment)," Texas coach David Pierce said. "This was like Omaha in March and a great venue to do it in."

After four scoreless innings, both Tennessee and Texas showcased some power at a big league ballpark. Evan Russell lined a homer over the left field wall to get Tennessee on the scoreboard in the fifth inning. In the bottom half, Texas shortstop Trey Faltine countered with a solo shot of his own.

The home run was a memorable moment for Faltine, who is from nearby Richmond. He estimated that he has attended at least 300 games at Minute Maid Park. He grew up rooting for Astros such as Craig Biggio and Jose Altuve. 

Faltine said hitting the home run in front of family and friends was "pretty special." But he added that "I'm more happy about the W. I could have gone 0-for-4 tonight and it wouldn't have mattered if we got a W."

More:Home may be sweet for Texas baseball, but Longhorns will be traveling for most of March

Faltine was one of the few Longhorns to get the better of Tennessee starter Chase Burns. The freshman struck out 10 Longhorns, allowed two hits, issued one walk and hit one batter. 

Burns, however, worked only a five-inning shift. Texas fared much better against the Tennessee bullpen.

With Camden Sewell on the mound in the sixth, Eric Kennedy led off with a double, one of UT's three hits in the inning. Another of the hits was Ivan Melendez's double that drove in a run. Skyler Messinger had an RBI single as Texas took a 4-1 lead.

Tennessee had a chance to get out of the inning with just Kennedy's and Melendez's doubles, but second baseman Jorel Ortega botched what should have been an inning-ending double play. Texas plated a run on that error, and Messinger came through in the next at-bat.

"That's our goal coming into every game: We want to get to that bullpen," said Melendez, who added an RBI triple during UT's three-run seventh inning. "We want to work the count, grind out ABs and try to get a lot of pitches under the starter's belt so we get into that bullpen a lot quicker."

More:Texas pitcher Pete Hansen discusses preseason hype, personal growth and 1983 comparisons

The offensive effort by Texas in the sixth inning made a winner out of Pete Hansen, who pitched six innings of five-hit baseball. Relievers Luke Harrison and Aaron Nixon got the Longhorns out of late jams.

In his postgame interview, Pierce said catcher Silas Ardoin deserved credit for how Texas handled the Tennessee offense. Ardoin tagged a runner out to end the first inning and caught a Volunteer trying to steal in the fourth.

"The guy that always gets overlooked is Silas," Pierce said. "I thought he played a great game today, some great picks, took some blocks, tough blocks."

Top play: Harrison threw only three pitches Friday night, but those throws helped preserve a 4-2 lead for Texas.

With two outs in the seventh inning, Tennessee had runners on second and third. So Pierce called for Harrison out of the bullpen to set up a left-lefty matchup against hitter Luc Lipcius.

Lipcius had entered the game with a .444 average. After fouling off pitch a pitch to make the count 0-2, Lipcius was caught looking on an inning-ending third strike.

Notable number: 20. Hansen has allowed just 20 earned runs in his collegiate career. The left-hander joined the Longhorns ahead of the 2020 season.

Hansen had a spotless ERA over the 17 innings he pitched as a freshman. Last season, he pitched 91 innings and was tagged for 19 earned runs. Russell's homer is the only run Hansen has allowed over 17 innings in 2022.

For those doing the math at home, Hansen has a career ERA of 1.44 — third-best in UT history among pitchers with at least 100 innings. Burt Hooton's 1.14 ERA is the school standard. Huston Street had a 1.31 ERA in 2002-04.

Up next: Texas will return to the Shriners College Classic's prime time slot Saturday night. The Longhorns' opponent will be No. 7 LSU.

LSU (9-1) beat Oklahoma 5-4 in its first game at the Shriners College Classic. LSU needed 11 innings on Friday, but Jordan Thompson's walk-off home run lifted the triumphant Tigers.

Under Pierce, Texas is 4-3 against LSU. But in the last meeting between the two schools, LSU was the victor. That 4-3 win for the Tigers was recorded at the Shriners College Classic in 2020.