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Looking to avoid a midweek stumble, No. 7 Texas beats up on Stephen F. Austin

Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman

Backed by both the bat of Ivan Melendez and an offensive outburst in the third inning, Texas cruised to a 13-2 win over Stephen F. Austin on Tuesday night. 

The No. 7 team in the D1Baseball poll, Texas (25-10) improved its record in midweek games to 8-3. One of those midweek losses — an 8-4 slip-up at the College of Charleston on March 15 — was still resonating at UFCU Disch-Falk Field nearly a month later.

"I think that was definitely an eye-opener, knowing that it's a game of baseball, anybody can beat anybody," Melendez said. "We come out, try to take care of business."

On Tuesday, the Longhorns struck first on Melendez's home run in the first inning. SFA (10-22) then tied the game in the third inning when Cameron Crawford walked, advanced on an errant pickoff attempt and then scored from second base on Zane Morehouse's wild pitch. 

But during the third inning's bottom half, Texas pushed across six runs. The Longhorns sent 12 batters to the plate and got RBI doubles from Melendez and Austin Todd and two-run singles from Skyler Messinger and Jack O'Dowd. The Lumberjacks (10-12) made a pitching change before the inning started and then went to the bullpen again during the 30-minute frame.

Texas' Austin Todd slides into home during the Longhorns' 13-2 win over Stephen F. Austin at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday night. The Longhorns will open a Big 12 series at Kansas State on Thursday; it wraps up on Saturday.

The Longhorns weren't flawless in the frame, though.

To lead off the inning, sophomore outfielder Dylan Campbell popped up an offering to Grant Walters. Even though the play looked to be a foul ball, it drifted and landed in fair territory once it was dropped by Walters. The Lumberjacks' lefty recovered in time to easily throw out Campbell, who didn't take off to first base on initial contact.

Later in the inning, Campbell's spot in the UT batting order came up again. Ace Whitehead, however, hit in his place.

"It's unfortunate because that's not who he is, and honestly, I don't think you really saw the ball. If you don't see it, you got to go," Pierce said. "I think that's really what happened, but we can't let it pass. It will never happen to him again and he knows it and he regrets it."

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After hitting a three-run homer in the fifth, Melendez was given the rest of the night off. His 16 home runs now lead the country; he passed three players who were tied for the national lead with 15 homers entering Tuesday night, none of whom hit one — Old Dominion left fielder Andy Garriola, Tennessee Tech left fielder Jason Hinchman and Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada.

Melendez said he's not paying too much attention to the number of home runs he's hitting this season, though, and added that "I just trust my preparation."

On Tuesday, Texas and SFA combined to use 16 pitchers. None of UT's eight lasted more than two innings, but Pierce said the plan going into the evening was to evaluate a lot of arms. Daniel Blair was credited with the victory.

Key play: Facing a full-count offering in the first inning, Melendez crushed a solo shot over the batter's eye in center field. The home run traveled an estimated 455 feet and was the fourth "Monster Shot" of Melendez's two-year tenure at Texas. In UT's history, only 46 "Monster Shot" homers have been hit by Longhorns at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

That moonshot was the first of UT's 17 hits against Stephen F. Austin. In the next at-bat, Murphy Stehly reached on an infield single. That play extended Stehly's hitting streak to 19 games, which is tied for the fifth-longest run in the Texas record books.

Notable Number: 6. Six of the Longhorns who started on Tuesday — Stehly, Todd, Silas Ardoin, Douglas Hodo III, Trey Faltine and Andre Duplantier II — were on the Texas roster in 2020. The ace of that staff was Bryce Elder, who made his MLB debut just minutes before the first pitch at UFCU Disch-Falk Field was thrown.

A fifth-round pitch by Atlanta in 2020, Elder was called up by the Braves earlier in the day. Elder struck out four batters while allowing six hits and three runs over 5 2/3 innings. He was the pitcher of record in Atlanta's 16-4 win over Washington.

Said Pierce: "I'm so proud of him. It's great for our program, but he's a great ambassador of our program."

Elder is the first Pierce-era Longhorn to reach the major leagues. Pierce has been UT's coach since 2017.

Up next: On Thursday, Texas will open a three-game series at Kansas State. Texas is 5-4 in Big 12 play. Kansas State has lost eight of its first nine conference games.