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Texas 9, Stephen F. Austin 1: Ivan Melendez stays hot as Horns win their fifth straight

Texas designated hitter Ivan Melendez is congratulated on a two-run home run against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday by coach David Pierce. Melendez hit one out again Wednesday night; he has homered in three straight games.

It hasn't taken Texas fans very long to learn newcomer Ivan Melendez's name.

There's a long-standing tradition at UFCU Disch-Falk Field of fans chanting a player's name after he hits a home run. Usually the chant continues until after he emerges from the dugout for a curtain call.

Melendez got the treatment for the first time Tuesday night after he crushed a 471-foot homer against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Then, in Texas' 9-1 win over Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday night, the designated hitter homered again and drove in four runs. It was the fifth straight win for the fourth-ranked Longhorns (22-8).

"I would say the Horns are hot right now," Melendez said. "We're walking around pretty confident around the locker room."

It might be tough to find a batter who's enjoying the month of April more than Melendez is. He singled in his first at-bat April 1, and the rest of his month hasn't been a joke:

• At Kansas (April 1): 1-for-3.

• At Kansas (April 2): 4-for-5, two doubles, two runs and an RBI.

• At Kansas (Saturday): 3-for-5, a home run, a double, two runs and an RBI.

• Against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Tuesday): 4-for-5, a home run, two doubles, two runs and three RBIs.

• Against Stephen F. Austin (Wednesday): 2-for-3, a home run, a run and four RBIs.

Add that up and that's a .667 batting average, seven runs and nine RBIs. Melendez was hitting .263 at the end of March, but his average has skyrocketed to .372, which now ranks second in the lineup. He's the first Longhorn to hit home runs in three straight games since Kody Clemens did it at the 2018 super regional.

On Monday, Melendez was named the Big 12's co-newcomer of the week. He shared the award with TCU's Brayden Taylor.

"As far as the approach and mentality, I just kept it the same," Melendez said. "It was just minor tweaks (with how I held the bat) that I had to change. Baseball, it's a game of adjustments."

The El Paso product had only one Division I offer coming out of high school, from New Mexico State. He instead went to Odessa College to pitch and hit. He was eventually persuaded to focus on hitting; Melendez hit 17 homers and was an NJCAA All-American in 2019.

Tipped off about the slugger by former Longhorns star Omar Quintanilla, Texas persuaded Melendez to join its 2020 recruiting class. When Melendez signed, assistant coach Sean Allen described him as "a natural hitter with huge raw power."

He immediately showcased that power as he hit UT's first homer of the season during a loss to Mississippi State at Arlington's Globe Life Field on Feb. 20. Three of his four home runs have come in his last three games.

"This kid is powerful," Texas coach David Pierce said. "He mishits home runs. ... He's very strong, and he's very confident right now."

Wednesday night, Melendez clubbed a three-run homer in a fourth inning that also included Zach Zubia's solo shot. That power surge doubled the 4-0 lead that Texas had built over the first two innings.

That was more than enough run support for Pete Hansen, who turned in his strongest start of the season. The redshirt freshman left-hander allowed two hits and three walks over six shutout innings. His six innings and 82 pitches were both season highs.

"Overall, he was good. He's going to get better," Pierce said. "I think that the next step is him finishing at-bats when he gets guys 1-2, 0-2."

Around the bases: Texas and Kansas State will play three times at Disch-Falk this weekend. The starting pitchers Friday are expected to be UT's Ty Madden (4-1, 1.52 ERA) and Kansas State's Jordan Wicks (4-2, 3.40), who are rated by MLB.com as the 10th- and 16th-best prospects in the 2021 draft class. ... On Wednesday, Austin native Harrison Lee surrendered four runs in the inning he pitched for Stephen F. Austin. ... Texas outfielder Mike Antico stole his Big 12-leading 14th base. ... Texas senior DJ Petrinsky hit his first homer of the season in the eighth inning.