Texas 4, South Carolina 1: In handing Gamecocks their first loss, UT earns its biggest win
At UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday night, Texas found a building block for its 2021 baseball season.
Behind a three-run eighth inning, Texas recorded a 4-1 win over South Carolina. The win was UT's ninth in its 11 last games.
The victory was also the biggest of a young season for Texas. Ranked 19th in the D1Baseball poll, Texas (9-5) had opened its year with losses to Arkansas, Mississippi State and Ole Miss programs that are currently ranked first, third and fourth. South Carolina (11-1) was listed as the nation's 12th-best team this week.
"I think it's a great game to build off of," senior Zach Zubia said. "It gives people confidence, it gives people the thought that you can hang with these Power 5 schools left and right.
"We got popped early. We came back and we've been fairly resilient I would say. It's been really really fun to watch that turnaround."
Texas and South Carolina were meeting for the first time since the Longhorns secured a championship at the 2002 College World Series. And over the first seven innings of this reunion, the two teams were engaged in a 1-1 tie.
To lead off Texas' half of the eighth inning, Eric Kennedy tripled to right field. Mike Antico then walked and stole second base without a throw.
With first base open, South Carolina elected to pitch to Zubia. After Will Sanders threw two balls to UT's cleanup hitter, Zubia delivered a double that was ruled fair down the first base line.
"It's either pitch to me or pitch to (Silas Ardoin, UT's No. 5 hitter)," Zubia said. "I wasn't too shocked because Sy's, he's been on a tear. Just the ball hasn't fallen yet and it will."
Zubia later scored on a single by pinch hitter DJ Petrinsky. That gave Aaron Nixon enough of a cushion for the ninth inning.
Called upon in relief in the eighth inning, Nixon allowed just an infield single over the final two frames. That baserunner in the ninth inning was also quickly erased when he was tagged out after turning towards second base. Nixon's third strikeout ended the game.
"This is a great lesson tonight," Texas coach David Pierce said. "We pitched and played defense in a 1-1 game. And then when we were opportunistic, we win the game in the eighth inning and shut them down."
Pierce told reporters that Texas began recruiting Nixon while he was a high school freshman. Pierce initially felt uncomfortable about recruiting that young of a prospect, but he was won over by Nixon's maturity.
A second-degree hamstring strain cost Nixon playing time early in the fall. His availability for the spring was never in doubt, though. On Friday, Nixon made his fourth appearance of the season.
"This spring, I felt really good," Nixon said. "I had a great catcher tonight and a great catcher always in Sy. Great hitting, just great all-around game tonight."
Neither starting pitcher factored into Friday's decision. Texas ace Ty Madden allowed three hits and three walks over his seven innings. South Carolina's Thomas Farr pitched six innings, struck out 10 batters and surrendered seven hits and an earned run.
Following his performance, Madden saw his ERA dip to 1.33. Madden had thrown 16 innings of shutout baseball over the previous two weeks. The only run he allowed against the Gamecocks came after he walked the bases loaded and then gave up a second-inning sacrifice fly.
Around the bases: Due to the threat of inclement weather, the first pitch on Saturday between Texas and South Carolina has been moved up to 2:30 p.m. ... UT volunteer assistant coach Troy Tulowitzki was ejected in the seventh inning. By rule, Tulowitzki will be suspended for the Longhorns' next game. ... Texas announced a crowd of 17,016 for Friday's game. ... Antico has stolen five bases over UT's last two games.