Texas 3, West Virginia 2: Longhorns produce just enough offense to back Pete Hansen's gem
Although the Ks were noteworthy, the only letter that mattered for Texas on Friday night was W.
Texas hitters struck out 14 times, but the second-ranked Longhorns got a key hit from Silas Ardoin in the sixth winning to hold on for a 3-2 win over West Virginia, keeping them alive in the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City.
Texas (42-14) advances to a semifinal showdown on Saturday with Oklahoma State. If the Longhorns can beat Oklahoma State (34-16-1) twice, they will earn a spot in Sunday's title game.
"We hope we play two tomorrow. Hopefully it's a real long day," Ardoin said. "We're going to come ready to play tomorrow."
On Friday night, Texas and West Virginia were meeting for the fifth time in a nine-day span. The Mountaineers (25-27) gave the baseball to sophomore pitcher Jacob Watters, who had 18 appearances this spring. None of those were starts.
The hard-throwing Watters, over the first three innings, threw 74 pitches as he faced 13 batters. Texas struck out eight times in that span and failed to put a ball in play. Watters, however, also issued four walks and hit Eric Kennedy with a pitch.
With the bases loaded in the third inning, Watters sailed a pitch. Mountaineers catcher Paul McIntosh relayed the caromed ball to Watters for a close call at home plate, but Trey Faltine scored from third base. A replay upheld that call.
The sequence likely gave Texas fans a feeling of deja vu. In a 5-4 loss to West Virginia on May 20, Cam Williams attempted to score on a wild throw by Watters in the seventh; Williams was initially called safe, but the game-tying run was overturned by a review.
Texas had a chance to expand its lead in the fourth, but Mike Antico was robbed of a grand slam by right fielder Austin Davis' leaping catch. And then West Virginia went up 2-1 in the fifth off McCormick's two-run, two-out single.
By that time, Texas still was looking for its first hit. Ivan Melendez singled in the bottom of the fifth, though. And then over back-to-back at-bats in the sixth, Faltine singled and Ardoin doubled.
With Texas calling for a hit-and-run, Ardoin's double scored two runs and gave UT a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
"We struggled a little bit offensively and we just found a way to put an inning together and hold on to it," Texas coach David Pierce said.
Those three hits would be it for the Texas offense. One day after the Longhorns struck out 17 times in a 4-1 win over Oklahoma, their 14 strikeouts tied for the fourth-most total of this season.
"The story of our season is adversity," Ardoin said. "We look for it every time we play, every day. I don't think there was any moment that we thought that we weren't going to win the game."
Strikeouts weren't just a Texas issue. West Virginia struck out nine times against Pete Hansen. Reliever Tanner Witt pitched the final 2 1/3 innings and his fourth strikeout ended the game.
A second-year left-hander, Hansen (8-1) allowed six hits and stranded three runners in scoring position. The nine strikeouts bested his previous career high by two.
Texas has now received a quality start in each of its three games at the Big 12 Tournament. Ty Madden, Tristan Stevens and Hansen all have pitched past the sixth inning. Combined, they have allowed six earned runs.
Around the bases: In his postgame press conference, Pierce did not outline his pitching plans for Oklahoma State. He said the Longhorns have "lots of options." ... Witt recorded his fourth save of the season. ... Antico drew his Big 12-leading 51st walk on Friday and stole his conference-leading 29th base. ... Texas first baseman Zach Zubia extended his on-base streak to 32 games.