Mississippi State 8, Texas 3: After 346 days without baseball, UT returns with a loss
ARLINGTON — Texas fans have waited 346 days for baseball. They'll have to wait a little longer for a win.
Texas struck out 18 times in an 8-3 loss to Mississippi State on Saturday. The game was the opener for both UT's season and the 2021 College Baseball Showdown at Globe Life Field.
Texas was also playing for the first time since a 9-1 win over Abilene Christian on March 11. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 38 games were wiped off of Texas' 2020 schedule. Additionally, this meeting between Texas and Mississippi State was delayed a day because of this week's winter storms.
Due to technical difficulties, Texas did not do a postgame press conference. Quotes attributed to head coach David Pierce were later released through a school spokesperson.
The seventh-ranked team in D1Baseball's preseason poll, Mississippi State was UT's toughest season-opening draw in years. Texas, which itself was ranked ninth by D1Baseball, last opened a season against a program from a Power Five conference in 2014. Seven of the nine teams that kicked off UT's campaigns from 2011 to 2019 missed that year's NCAA Tournament. The first foe of Texas' 2020 season was Rice, which was 2-14 when its season was called.
In Mississippi State, Texas was facing an opponent that had reached the College World Series in 2018 and 2019. Ty Madden, the new ace of the UT pitching staff after Atlanta's selection of Bryce Elder in the 2020 MLB draft, was tasked with getting the Longhorns off to a good start.
Madden opened his season with three straight strikeouts. He then retired the first two batters he saw in the second inning. But he issued a two-out walk, and the last three batters in Mississippi State's lineup — Scotty Dubrule, Landon Jordan and Drew McGowan — each singled to center field.
Those three hits produced two runs, and the Bulldogs had a lead they wouldn't give up. Mississippi State designated hitter Luke Hancock, who drew the second-inning walk, homered in a fourth frame that also saw Dubrule score on an error by UT shortstop Trey Faltine.
That inning was Madden's last. The sophomore right-hander allowed four hits and three walks. He threw 79 pitches and struck out five, but he struggled with the bottom of Mississippi State's batting order. The last four Bulldogs went 4-for-5 with three RBIs, four runs and three walks. The first five went 0-for-12.
"He probably tried to do too much," Pierce said of Madden. "I know he’s always going to be ready to go and be prepared. But if he had established his slider, it would have made a difference."
Offensively, Texas did manage nine hits. The biggest of those swings belonged to newcomer Ivan Melendez, an Odessa College transfer who homered in the fifth inning.
Melendez's introduction to Texas fans seemingly lit a fuse as the Longhorns followed up that home run with three additional hits. But Mississippi State called on reliever Landon Sims, who struck out Austin Todd, Eric Kennedy and Mike Antico to escape the bases-loaded jam and preserve a 5-1 lead.
Kennedy and Todd were UT's batting champs in 2019 and 2020. Antico led St. John's with his .386 batting average in 2019.
"Seeing (Mississippi State starter Christian MacLeod) have success with his fastball in the upper part of the zone, I was taking note of that when I was in the bullpen," Sims told Mississippi State reporters. "Knowing that If I threw my fastballs up in the zone I could get some swings and misses. It ended up working out that way."
The 18 strikeouts were the most for Texas since Pierce took over the program ahead of the 2017 season. Sims struck out 10 of the 12 batters he faced.
"MacLeod is one of the best strikeout left-handers in the country, and Sims was throwing the ball 93-96," Pierce said. "That really does make a difference when you haven’t swung the bat in a week and trying to face that quality of stuff.”
Due to the storms that shut down the state, Texas did not practice between Sunday and Wednesday. The Longhorns got in a short practice Thursday before traveling and working out in Arlington on Friday.
“I’m not going to make any excuses, I think everybody has battled some elements, some weather and dealing with things back at home in their community," Pierce said. "It was a quick turnaround, but that’s not excuse; we just didn’t play well.”
Around the bases: Texas will return to Globe Life Park to play No. 8 Arkansas on Sunday night. UT is set to throw right-hander Tristan Stevens (2-0, 1.50 ERA in 2020) against its old Southwest Conference rival. ... Melendez added an RBI double and scored a run in the ninth inning. ... UT committed two errors. A passed ball led to another unearned run. ... In 2018, Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis was the leader of an Indiana team that Texas beat at a regional in Austin.