No. 1 Texas walks past Rice as Tristan Stevens picks up where he left off in 2021
Last month, Texas pitcher Tristan Stevens was a unanimous addition on the Big 12's preseason team.
None of those Big 12 ballots were filled out by any Rice coaches. But after Saturday, it's doubtful that the Owls would have had any objections to Stevens' selection. His solid start led No. 1 Texas in its 15-1 victory at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
"It is a good start," Stevens said. "We just want to take it one day at a time. This is what we expect going into it. Now our focus is going for the sweep tomorrow."
In his breakthrough season last year, Stevens led the Big 12 with 11 pitching wins. And his 111 ⅓ innings pitched were third-most in the country. The sixth-year senior pitched six shutout innings Saturday night, giving up four hits, two walks and striking out three.
"Honestly, I didn't feel like I had my stuff today," he said. "That was just more of a nitty-gritty, get after it, stay with my approach, knowing that I really didn't feel like I had my best stuff, but still trying to be an attacker. I think that's what got me through the outing."
Texas (2-0) didn't need much offense against Rice (0-2). The Longhorns still scored at least one run in every inning between the third and seventh sessions. The game, though, was blown open during a fifth inning that saw Texas turn a 4-0 lead into a 10-run advantage.
After UT's first two batters in the fifth struck out looking, Rice issued five straight walks. Texas drew four of those on full-count offerings, and two of those forced in a run.
After Texas completed the two-out walkathon, Trey Faltine and Murphy Stehly both contributed two-run doubles to the cause. For good measure, the Longhorns drew one more walk before the inning ended.
The bottom of the fifth lasted around 40 minutes. Three Rice pitchers combined to throw 60 pitches.
For comparison's sake, Stevens threw 67 pitches in his entire start.
"We led the country in base-on-balls last year, but we also have done a good job with guys in scoring position," UT coach David Pierce said. "I just think they are buying into a good approach."
Texas emptied its bench in the blowout. Position players Ace Whitehead, Kimble Schuessler, Gavin Kash and Jack O'Dowd all made their debuts in the later innings.
Texas also got a one-inning appearance out of the bullpen from Andre Duplantier II, who struck out two of the three batters he faced. He led the Longhorns in saves during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but missed 2021 with an elbow injury.
Key play: During the long fifth inning, a fan walking on the concourse made a one-handed snag of a foul ball without spilling much of his beer. And while that may have been the afternoon's best catch, it wasn't the top defensive highlight.
With two outs in the third inning, Rice was poised to score the first run of the game. With Drew Woodcox on first, Guy Garibay laced a double to a gap in right field.
After the baseball caromed off the fence, Texas center fielder Douglas Hodo III quickly threw it to second baseman Mitchell Daly. With Woodcox heading home, Daly fired the relay throw to catcher Silas Ardoin and the Rice runner was tagged out.
That play extended UT's season-opening shutout streak to 12 innings. That eventually ended in the ninth inning. That was the longest scoreless run to start a season since UT blanked both Hardin-Simmons and Stephen F. Austin in the first two games of 1992.
Notable Number: 7,355. Texas reported a crowd of 7,186, a few fans less than the 7,355 who made Friday's opener.
Friday's crowd was the largest to see a season opener at the stadium. And only two games played at Disch-Falk Field in February have drawn bigger crowds — UT's 11-4 win over Arizona State on Feb. 10, 1990 (7,782) and a 9-5 win over the Sun Devils the next day (7,616).
Friday's crowd ranked 43rd among the all-time crowds at Disch-Falk.
Up next: The series finale for Texas and Rice is set for 1 p.m. on Sunday. After making 28 relief appearances as a freshman, UT sophomore Tanner Witt will make his first career start. Thomas Burbank, who was on the Texas roster in 2019, is Rice's scheduled starter.