Jacob Felts raised his season's batting average to .500 on Tuesday and coincidentally also raised his goat/hero average to .500. Felts collected one of four Texas hits against UT Pan Am and it just so happened to be a game winner with two outs in the bottom of the 11th. It was the senior's second at bat of the year following a game-ending double play in the second game of the year.
Just how bad was Texas offensively on Tuesday? The Horns played 11 innings without having a single hitter record an official at bat after a base hit other than Brooks Marlow's leadoff single in the bottom of the first. Marlow and Mark Payton both singled and were picked off or caught stealing and the Felts single ended the game. The Horns did draw eight walks and only struck out four times, so it's possible they were just the victims of bad luck when they put the ball in play.
Nathan Thornhill walked four over the final three innings and was the beneficiary of a some terrific defense by Brooks Marlow which saved a run (and quite possibly the game) for Texas in the 10th. The senior's control hasn't been ideal coming out of the pen and that's a story to focus on moving forward. John Curtiss made his first appearance as a Longhorn in almost two years and was fantastic in the two innings he threw.
The Horns won in the end though and can now turn their attention to Rice, Houston and Sam Houston State this weekend in Houston.
Rice - Friday 7 PM:
Texas is switching up its pitching matchup and sending out Dillon Peters instead of Parker French on Friday night against the Rice Owls. The Owls are also 6-3 on the season having lost a Sunday game to Stanford and midweek games to Houston and Sam Houston State.
It's hard to know what to make of this Rice team. They took two of three from Stanford on the road and swept an absolutely atrocious Purdue squad last weekend but are also 1-2 in midweek games against fairly solid competition. They haven't scored more than three runs in their last four games that haven't been played against Purdue though they did score 23 in their Sunday win over the Boilermakers (quick aside - just how bad is Purdue? They've played six games this season and have given up 20 runs twice).
Junior Skyler Ewing has been Rice's Mark Payton, leading the team in most offensive categories (.459 average, 3 HR, 17 hits, 17 RBI). The Owls are hitting .281 as a team but that number comes down to .251 if we take away the Sunday Purdue game and just .231 if we remove the whole Purdue series.
Rice, like Texas, earns its stripes on the mound. The Horns will face off against junior Friday starter Jordan Stephens. Stephens struggled a bit against Stanford (5 IP, 3 ER, 5 H, 2 BB) but dominated Purdue (7 IP, 5 H, 1 ER) and enters his start with a 2-0 record and 3.00 ERA. He's a good, experienced pitcher (8-4, 2.43 ERA a year ago) and Texas will be challenged to beat him.
Houston - Saturday 3:30 PM
The Horns will face Houston on Saturday. The Cougars are 7-0 this year with a win over Rice and series sweeps over Nicholls State and Michigan (combined record 4-10). Houston has struggled at the plate this season, having scored a season high four runs twice. Senior 1B Casey Grayson leads the way with very respectable numbers (.348 average, 4 RBI, 5 BB) but the Cougars hit an anemic .241 as a team and have just the one home run.
Houston has been dominant on the mound this season though it's hard to tell if that's a factor of their competition or a statement on the quality of their pitchers. The Cougars have recorded four shutouts and have only given up six runs in seven games. The Horns are scheduled to see sophomore Saturday starter Jake Lemoine. Lemoine has been brilliant in his two starts against bad competition, going 14.2 innings, giving up just eight hits, walking two and striking out 12 all while not allowing a run.
Sam Houston State - Sunday 10 AM
On Sunday it'll be Sam Houston State against Texas in an early morning game. The Bearkats are 8-1 on the season with midweek wins over Rice and McNeese State, a series sweep over Northern Colorado and a series win over Dallas Baptist. Not a murderer's row but no wins over Purdue either.
SHSU has hit well this season, featuring a lineup with five hitters over .300, three over .400 and one at .500. Aside from having a fantastic name, Sunday starter Dirk Masters has been solid in his two starts (0.90 ERA, 7 H, 1 ER in 10 IP). Masters hasn't gone deep in either start (5 IP both times) and his penchant for walking hitters (9 BB, 7 K) may give Texas a chance.
The Horns will throw Peters, French and Lukas Schiraldi again this weekend. Texas has been playing good defense since their first game and the Horns are getting on base through the walk at a solid clip. Should the bats turn back on this can be a great team. Texas seemed to make good contact into a stiff breeze on Tuesday, maybe it was bad luck or maybe we're deluding ourselves.
Time will tell.
A year ago the Horns were 6-1 after two weekends. Then they lost a midweek game and a series versus Stanford and weren't able to build any momentum entering conference play. Texas has faced stiffer competition to this point in 2014 than they did last year. If the Horns can take two of three this weekend they could build some serious momentum for the 2014 campaign.
All three games are on LHN and this'll be your Friday night open thread. Hook 'em!