Houston College Classic Recap: UT Takes Tourney

Schooly_d

The Longhorns went to the Juice Box in Houston hoping to get at least a pair of wins, and came home with three. There remain some concerns but there's no denying the results so far look nothing like 2013.

The Texas baseball squad sits at 9-3 after a successful weekend at the Houston College Classic, and that record includes a 9-1 mark in their last ten games after dropping a season-opening pair at Cal. The weekend featured a traditional Texas approach to baseball, with the Longhorns scoring a total of eight runs while going 3-0 against Rice (2-0), Houston (3-2), and Sam Houston State (3-2).

Augie Garrido played with the rotation a bit, running Dillon Peters out on Friday instead of Parker French. It turned out to be a brilliant move, as Peters held the Owls scoreless through eight masterful innings of work. Peters has now allowed only two earned runs in 22 innings of work, and he gave up only four hits to Rice. It is becoming clear that this is a team with two legitimate aces, which should be a critical advantage on Saturday games all season--no matter whether it ends up being French or Peters taking on the opponent's number two guy.

Newly-named closer Nathan Thornhill cannot be said to have "slammed" the door on Rice in the ninth, but he did manage to gently press it shut. He got the first tow Owls he faced, and then proceeded to load the bases with back-to-back singles and a walk. He finished the job by getting a pinch hitter to strike out looking, however, and the Longhorns held on for a 2-0 win in the pitchers' duel. Texas managed only six hits themselves, but--unlike their usual M.O. last season--this time they managed to make them count.

Half of those six hits all came in the fourth innings, as Kasey Clemens started things off with a single and was then bunted down to second base by Andy McGuire. The danger of Augieball, of course, is that if you give up an out to get a runner down to second base, you put a lot of pressure on the next guy; if he fails to get on base, suddenly you have a man on second with two outs and no runs home, when you could have had a man on first with no outs--which, statistically, is a better situation. This time was a prime example, as catcher Jeremy Montalbano popped out to shortstop. However, freshman DH Tres Barrera responded to the two-out pressure with an RBI double, which sophomore Ben Johnson followed with one of his own. The key takeaway? In 2014, the seventh and eighth hitters in Texas' lineup are capable of delivering back-to-back extra-base hits against a quality pitcher (although, to be fair, Rice starter Jordan Stephens only lasted two innings so it was against reliever Chase McDowell). It's been too long,

Saturday, Texas took on then-unbeaten Houston and French was almost as good as Peters had been Friday. Texas needed a couple of errors from Houston (though at least one was iffy) to get two unearned runs and take the 3-2 victory. Still, errors only help if you're getting guys on base. The Texas offense is certainly not where I'd like to see it, and the low team slugging percentage of .319 is worrisome. But we knew coming in that the Longhorns would be depending on young guys to improve the offense, and four of those underclassmen are still hitting under .200 as they adjust to the college game. The good news is that even without tearing the cover off the ball, the Horns have won 9 of 10. If the young guys find their strokes, this could be a much, much improved team.

But I digress.  Yesterday, Texas finished the weekend with a comeback win over a strong Sam Houston State team, which--if it gets into the tourney by winning the Southland Conference or snagging an at-large bid--will be a very tough out come summertime.  Like most of the weekend, Texas' win yesterday was not without its worrisome trends in terms of numbers. But the positives were present in equal numbers, including the intangible: Lukas Schiraldi started the game for Texas, and his first inning came after the Longhorns had blown a scoring opportunity in the top of the frame. Sam scored two runs in the bottom of the first, and it was ugly--an error on shortstop CJ Hinojosa and Schiraldi walking in a run helped the Bearkats' cause.

On the other hand, Schiraldi allowed the first two guys to get on base for SHSU and those were the only two who scored, so he did a great job of limiting the damage despite having to earn four outs due to Hinojosa's miscue. The Longhorns' offense was more effective than the first two games, though, and they continually threatened to come back and tie or take the lead. Unfortunately, though, through six innings they couldn't break through--Te4xas would ultimately strand 14 runners on the day, which is nice because they got 14+ runners (10 from base hits), but less nice because the point of having runners on is to score them.

Nonetheless, Texas got something going in the seventh. A leadoff infield single by Collin Shaw led to the inevitable sac bunt by Brooks Marlow, followed by a Mark Payton single. (Guys, Mark Payton is so good at baseball.) Augie then put on the safety squeeze, which Hinojosa executed to get Shaw home and make it a 2-1 game. With two outs, Clemens hammered a single up the middle to score Payton and get his first college RBI. In the eighth, Texas took advantage of a SHSU throwing error which allowed Jacob Felts to reach second base with no out, despite Montalbano's bunt attempt resulting in a popout to the catcher.  McGuire came through with a single to put runners on the corners, and Shaw lifted a sac fly to score Felts for the winning run.

On the hill, Schiraldi threw an awful lot of pitches in that tough first inning and only lasted four. Freshman Cooper Morgan got the win by tossing 4.1 shutout innings to finish the contest; Thornhill should probably keep a close eye on Morgan if he wants to retain the closer position.

All in all, it was a successful weekend for the Longhorns. Six teams participated in the event, and Texas was named the "winner" for being the only squad to go 3-0. So that's fun.

Next up: a Tuesday evening game at home against Valparaiso, followed by hosting Hawaii for a four-game set. Hook 'em.

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