The first series of the season is in the books for the baseball Longhorns, and while the team can't be said to have looked like world-beaters, there was plenty on which to rest some cautious optimism going forward. Although a sweep would've been nice, taking a solid series victory is nothing to sneeze at.
We've already provided very brief recaps of the first two games; the main negative theme was the worrying performance of the bullpen, particularly the dubious debut of freshman Toller Boardman followed by a similarly worrying outing by Corey Knebel. Between the two of them, they nearly blew a 6-0 lead on Friday in the eighth by giving up five runs and recording no outs. But as bad as that pair was, former Aggie Ty Marlow pitched the Longhorns out of the jam to preserve the lead at 6-5, and ultimately the victory. As expected, Parker Fench was sharp in his seven innings of work.
Saturday it was the starting pitcher's turn to give us cause for concern, as Nathan Thornhill took the loss while going only 3.2 innings. Sac State's three-run third inning was extended by a costly error on freshman shortstop CJ Hinojosa, but that only cost one run as Thornhill induced a double play shortly thereafter. All in all, while it was a bumpy start, we think Thornhill will be fine going forward. The 5-3 loss was tough, but unlike many frustrating 2012 losses, Texas did not completely fail at the plate. They put together a nine-hit effort but just couldn't get the timely hits needed to plate runners. In fact, the Longhorns hit into a couple of costly double plays to negate potential big innings, and even had a hard-hit ball or two go for inning-ending outs. Some days, that's ball.
Sunday provided the most encouraging performance of the weekend. Texas pounded out 12 hits, bringing the series total to a healthy 35--compare that to the 17 total hits Texas managed in its season-opening series against Duke a year ago. It was unclear going into the weekend who would get the Sunday start, but Dillon Peters answered the call with aplomb--seven innings, two runs, and five hits. Peters managed only one strikeout, but indirectly that also leads us to a positive point: Augieball is based, in part, on pitchers being able to trust that the guys behind them will make plays if they induce hitters to put the ball in play. That is, a Texas pitcher has to know that he'll be rewarded for not walking guys. The Longhorn fielders turned in a crisp, error-free performance Sunday that looked nothing like some of the Benny Hill-type baseball we saw in 2012.
And speaking of major changes--we can't emphasize enough how much better the bats looked. Three games is obviously a tiny sample size, and Sac State is not known for its pitching, so this may be a mirage. But when Texas starts the season unranked, you can bet we'll be searching everywhere for signs of life. Hinojosa appears as good as advertised: he clearly has the ability to be a great shortstop, and we believe he will be just that as soon as he settles into the college game (he committed all three of Texas' errors last weekend). But at the plate, no adjustment time appears to be needed: he produced six hits in 11 at-bats, including a pair of doubles. The phenom was outdone only by junior cleanup hitter Mark Payton, who showed potential to step up as the team's unquestioned leader on offense with a 7-12 performance, including a double and a triple. Between the two of them, they were only four hits shy of the team total against Duke last year. So that's an improvement.
This will be your open thread for tonight's contest against UT Arlington, another WAC squad. Freshman Chad Hollingsworth is expected to take the hill for the Longhorns against the Mavericks' Chad Nack. UTA started the season with a sweep of Louisiana Tech in Arlington last weekend and has taken three of the past seven games against Texas. The game is on LHN and begins at 6:00 CST.