Texas claims homer history and a regional as Oklahoma spoils its bid for a Big 12 title
ARLINGTON — While Ivan Melendez was crowned on Sunday evening, the Oklahoma Sooners seized the throne.
A tumultuous third inning doomed Texas in an 8-1 loss to Oklahoma in the championship game at the Big 12 Tournament at Globe Life Field. But in his first at-bat, Melendez became Texas' single-season home run king.
The championship was Oklahoma's first since 2013. Texas hasn't won the Big 12 Tournament since 2015.
"It wasn't the result we wanted, but we fought hard, and we played a lot of good baseball overall," Melendez said. "At the end of the day, you just look at it, and we lost the championship; it is what it is, we move forward, and we have a lot of baseball coming up."
Before Sunday, Texas and Oklahoma had played each other 222 times. Only 22 of those had taken place outside of Austin or Norman. And none of them had ever decided a conference championship.
It didn't take long for Sunday's showdown to add another historic footnote.
Roughly six minutes after the first pitch from Oklahoma's Cade Horton was delivered, Melendez hit an opposite-field home run into the UT bullpen. The 407-foot shot was his 29th of the season. That broke a tie with former Longhorn Kyle Russell, who had established the school standard in 2007.
"It's great to see my hard work pay off and to go deep at a major league ballpark, but I'm a team guy," Melendez said. "I was probably the least productive this whole weekend from a team standpoint."
Melendez's homer and a strong start by Travis Sthele gave Texas an early boost. But that momentum quickly shifted.
After retiring the first six batters he faced, Sthele ran into command issues in the third inning. He threw eight straight balls to open the frame, and that set up a game-tying single for Kendall Pettis out of the ninth spot in the OU batting order.
Before Sthele threw his next pitch, he was called for a balk that brought another Sooners run home from third base. Then, while arguing the call, Texas coach David Pierce was unceremoniously ejected by second base umpire John Brammer.
Pierce called for reliever Aaron Nixon before his ejection, but that led to four straight Sooners reaching base. Then Tristan Stevens — the third Longhorns pitcher of the inning — immediately gave up a three-run blast.
By the time Texas (42-19) finally got out of the inning, Oklahoma (37-20) had built an 8-1 lead. Sthele, Nixon and Stevens combined to allow five hits and three walks in the frame. Neither Sthele nor Nixon recorded an out.
"Games like this, you're always trying to figure out when a guy's done, running out of juice," UT assistant coach Sean Allen said. "Just trying to figure out where's the Magic 8 Ball? Obviously if we looked at it, (Sthele) dominated for two innings, and we felt we could sneak another one out."
Down by seven runs, Texas was unable to rally. The Sooners limited the Longhorns to four hits, two of which were recorded with two outs in the ninth inning.
Key play: Texas was immediately given the opportunity to respond to Oklahoma's offensive outburst when two Longhorns moved into scoring position with one out in the fourth. But Horton got out of the jam with strikeouts of Skyler Messinger and Silas Ardoin.
Horton, who entered the game with a 7.94 ERA, struck out nine Longhorns over 5⅓ innings of two-hit baseball. In total, Texas struck out 16 times.
Notable number: 7. Sunday marked the seventh time that Oklahoma and Texas met in one of the Big 12's championship contests in any sport. The Sooners are now 4-3 in those matchups.
Up next: During the eighth inning, the NCAA announced that Austin had been named a host site for an NCAA regional. Texas will find out the three teams it is hosting during Monday's selection show.