It was about as solid a start as the Horns could've hoped for. Texas scored runs aplenty in the first two games of the series (6-1, 10-1) then combined timely hitting with overwhelming pitching and defense to take the final two games (3-1, 1-0). If these first four games of the season are indicative of what's ahead then the pitching could be a sight to behold.
Consider this: in the four games UIC managed to score three runs on 12 hits, and the Horns made only one error in the series. All four starters went 6+ innings with three of them going 7, contrasted with last year's opening series where only Austin Wood pitched more than 5 innings. Then consider this incredible fact: it took until May 2nd last year for Texas to hold its fourth opponent to one run or less. In 2006 and 2007 it took a month. The Horns did it this year in four games.
The competition was not Omaha-level, but UIC is no pushover either. This was a tourney team in 2008 (unlike last year's opening opponent, Virginia Commonwealth, who finished at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Conference), suggesting there is reason for cautious optimism. Pitching and defense win championships and the Horns did both to near perfection on this weekend.
Some observations after the jump.
- One series does not a season make, but Brandon Loy was fantastic in his debut at third. He is smooth defensively and very capable at the plate. Loy's debut was the story-line of the weekend -- besides the starting pitching -- as far as we're concerned.
- Taylor Jungmann, 'nuff said. 6 IP, 1 R, 1 H, and a victory in his debut. More on the pitching in a moment, but Jungmann deserves his own tick after that performance.
- The Kiddie Corps from 2008 is growing up. Kevin Keyes, Connor Rowe, Tant Shepherd, Brandon Workman, Chance Ruffin, Cameron Rupp and Brandon Belt were all newcomers in 2008, and they all appear ready to contribute mightily in 2009.
- Texas may not be losing as much defensively in the outfield as we initially thought. Kevin Keyes made several fantastic catches throughout the weekend, and Connor Rowe played center nicely. Not having Jordan Danks in center hurts, but the new outfield looks like it should be pretty solid.
- At least early on it appears that Preston Clark and Michael Torres will split DH duties while Russell Moldenhauer isn't quite game ready yet. It seems a smart move considering the way Loy plays the hot corner (so far).
- Again with the pitching. Hard to complain after that dominant performance, and Ruffin, Jungmann, Workman and Green make an extremely capable starting staff. Austin Wood performed marvelously in the top reliever role, getting the win in game three and the save in game four. The staff won't be really tested until Stanford in two weeks, but you couldn't have asked for a better start.
Pitcher of the Series -- Brandon Workman -- This really could've gone to any of the starters, but Workman pitched 7+ strong workmanlike innings, including no hits through 4 2/3, and a team high seven strikeouts. We expect these kind of performances from Chance Ruffin, but if Texas is getting this regularly from its Saturday and Sunday starters, watch out.
Hitter of the Series -- Brandon Belt -- Belt's double drove in the only run of the game on Sunday. He finished the weekend with team highs in doubles (2), RBI (3), walks (6) and OBP (.563).
Next Up: UT-Arlington at the Disch on Tuesday at 3 PM followed by a weekend tiff with Penn State.