Texas 4, Oklahoma 1: By eliminating Sooners, Longhorns stay alive at Big 12 Tournament
Thanks to a pair of veterans on the roster, history did not repeat itself for Texas on Thursday.
Longhorns starter Tristan Stevens was steady over seven innings and Zach Zubia contributed three hits in a 4-1 win over Oklahoma at the Big 12 Tournament. The victory came the day after Texas, which shared the Big 12 regular season championship and is the No. 1 seed this week at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, opened the double-elimination tournament with a 5-1 loss to West Virginia.
Three years ago, Texas went 0-2 in Oklahoma City after winning the regular season crown. Oklahoma eliminated Texas with a 3-1 win in 2018.
But Texas (41-14) avoided that fate this time around. Either Oklahoma State or a West Virginia rematch awaits the nation's second-ranked team in another elimination game Friday night.
"It was kind of a grind today, too; it wasn't really the prettiest game, but we got the job done," Stevens said. "That's what this team can do. Tomorrow we can put up a ten-spot for all we know. We've got to take it one game at a time."
Facing a Sooners team that he beat with a walk-off hit two months ago in Austin, Douglas Hodo III twice broke a tie game on Thursday. In the second inning, he scored the game's first run on a sacrifice fly by Silas Ardoin. After Oklahoma tied the score in the third frame, Hodo responded with a run-scoring double.
Texas made it 3-1 in the fourth when Zubia singled in Mike Antico. The hit was one of three for Zubia, who started the day with a 30-game on-base streak. As a team, Texas registered only five hits and struck out 17 times against the four OU pitchers.
"We struck out too much, but we had a couple of clutch hits and (Zubia) had a big day," UT coach David Pierce said.
Texas scored nearly three fewer runs than its season average, but that was more than enough offense for Stevens. The all-conference honoree allowed four hits and two walks and worked seven innings before Pierce turned the game over to reliever Aaron Nixon.
Stevens has now pitched at least six innings in each of his last 11 starts.
"I didn't know it was 11 straight to be honest with you," Stevens said. "(They) just give me the ball and we'll go from there."
Zubia was a starter in 2018 when the Longhorns made it to the College World Series. Stevens was a reserve on the roster that season.
Three years later, they're two of the remaining four Longhorns who played on that CWS team. After Texas secured its share of the Big 12 championship last Saturday, Zubia said the first person he received a celebratory handshake from was Stevens.
"That guy's been through hell and back with his roles and understanding his roles. He's done such a great job," Zubia said over the weekend. "To look at him, to shake his hand, in that moment, being able to hold a trophy, it's completely, 1,000, 100% worth it."
After Wednesday's loss, Antico was asked about playing desperate teams. The Longhorns are likely locked into a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens this week. A team like West Virginia, however, needs to win it all to get in.
"I would say now that it's all said and done that they were probably the hungrier team today," said Antico of West Virginia. "Their season is on the line. Maybe we got a little complacent and we know that we'll be in a regional next week. Maybe we didn't come out with that same fire that they did."
A day later, Texas fared better against a team that was just as desperate. Oklahoma was projected this week by D1Baseball as one of the first five teams that will be left out of the NCAA bracket. With two losses in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma's record slipped to 27-28.
Around the bases: Nixon pitched two innings and earned the eighth save of his freshman year. ... In addition to striking out 17 times against the Sooners, Texas also drew nine walks. ... Due to inclement weather, the Big 12 postponed its evening games for a day. West Virginia and Oklahoma State will now play at 4 p.m. on Friday. That game's loser will face Texas later in the evening. ... Pete Hansen (7-1, 1.80 ERA) is UT's expected starter for Friday's game.