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Ivan Melendez enters Longhorn lore with 28th homer as No. 22 Texas blasts Kansas

Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman
Texas' Ivan Melendez celebrates a run against Rice early this season. Melendez hit a home run in Friday night's 8-1 win over Kansas; it was his 28th homer of the season, tying Kyle Russell's single-season school record.

Over the years, Ivan Melendez has collected baseballs that have had special meaning in his career.

Most of the balls in Melendez's collection were gathered during his youth. He's added a few more souvenirs this season, though. The Texas first baseman got back the ball he hit for his 10th home run against Central Arkansas on March 22. He has his 20th home run ball, too.

And the one that turned into his 28th home run is also now in Melendez's possession. That one — crushed in No. 22 Texas' 8-1 win over Kansas at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday — tied Kyle Russell's school record.

"I definitely feel honored, and I feel like I achieved something," Melendez said. "The job's not done. We still have playoffs; we still have a game tomorrow."

More:As Ivan Melendez nears Texas history, Kyle Russell 'looking forward to tossing the baton'

Friday's first inning wasn't lacking in action. Trey Faltine turned a double play to get Texas out of a bases-loaded jam in the top half. When UT got its turn to swing away, Eric Kennedy went deep and Skyler Messinger drove in a run against his former team.

But the biggest highlight belonged to Melendez.

After working a 2-0 count, he hammered an offering from Cole Larson to the berm beyond the fence in left field. The 453-foot blast tied the school standard established by Russell in 2007.

"I kind of earned myself a pitch to drive, and I didn't miss it," Melendez said. "He threw me a fastball in the zone, which is (one of) the few I got all night."

Melendez's record-tying homer ended up in the hands of his cousin. Chaz Jiron said he tried for a bare-handed catch of the historic homer, but the ball ricocheted away from him. Jiron began to barter with the father of the kid who eventually ended up with the baseball, but a bribe wasn't needed because "he was a good sport about it. He knew he was my cousin."

"It meant the world to me" to get that ball, Jiron said. "To be a part of my cousin making history meant everything to me." 

More:Ivan Melendez, Mitchell Daly hit noteworthy homers as No. 22 Texas blows out Kansas

Melendez wasn't the only Longhorn who homered. Kennedy went deep twice. Austin Todd hit one that landed in the same area as Melendez's record-tying shot.

Kennedy hadn't homered since March 25. The veteran outfielder missed nine games last month after he injured his hamstring against Oklahoma on April 2. He returned April 19 but reinjured his hamstring and was sidelined for another month.

"I've been very fortunate in that I've never really been hurt in my life," Kennedy said. "When it initially happened, it sucked, and then I came back and it happened again, so it really sucked. I had a great support staff. ... They got me back as soon as possible, so it was awesome."

Texas worked Kennedy back into the lineup this week. He played five innings in Tuesday's 9-2 win over Sam Houston State. He worked another five-inning shift Thursday. On Friday, he played all nine innings.

Key play: Before Texas grabbed its early 3-0 lead, Kansas was poised to strike first. In the opening inning, the Jayhawks loaded the bases after they singled twice and cleanup hitter Nolan Metcalf was hit by a pitch.

Texas pitcher Lucas Gordon escaped unscathed when he coaxed a one-out grounder from Caleb Upshaw. Faltine fielded the grounder, stepped on second base and fired to first to complete the inning-ending double play. 

Gordon pitched six innings. He allowed five hits and one run. With the victory, he improved his record to 6-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.55.

Notable number: 7. Seven Longhorns — Melendez, Kennedy, Messinger, Faltine, Murphy Stehly, Silas Ardoin and Dylan Campbell — have had a multihomer game this season. Melendez has gone deep twice in six different games. In addition to a two-homer outing at Texas Tech, Stehly tied a school record in March when he homered three times against Incarnate Word

Up next: Texas (38-17, 13-10 Big 12) and Kansas (20-34, 4-19) will wrap up their series at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. After this game, Texas will start preparing for the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments. Saturday's game is the last of KU's season.

Texas will be either the fifth or sixth seed in next week's Big 12 Tournament. The Longhorns are tied for fifth place in the conference standings with West Virginia (32-20, 13-10). Texas owns the tiebreaker over West Virginia, which is wrapping up its regular season against Kansas State.