It would be pretty accurate to say Texas completely owned Oklahoma for 27 of the 28 innings played this past weekend. Except for a rough error-filled, six-run third inning for Oklahoma that allowed the Sooners to turn a laugher into a nail biter Friday, Texas was the better team throughout the weekend series in Norman.
Sunday brought more of what we have come to expect from Nathan Thornhill, who was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Week for the complete-game clinic he put on against a camouflage-clad, and therefore awfully silly-looking, Oklahoma team. The game was tied at 1 for a brief moment after OU scratched a run in the bottom of the third, but Texas quickly removed any drama from the situation with a three-spot in the fourth, aided by some sloppy play by Oklahoma (passed ball, E4). The Longhorns went on to cruise to an 8-1 victory in a game in which every Texas player who got an at-bat had at least one hit.
Four guys had multiple base hits and six had one apiece, totaling 15 for a team we very recently thought may not have enough ability up and down the lineup to score sufficient runs. At this point, though, they look like the strongest Texas lineup from one to nine in a long while. After a run of seasons--including some very successful seasons--in which it was a safe bet that the bottom two to four hitters in the Horns' order would be hovering near (or even below) the Mendoza line, this year's team has come into its own offensively in a big way. So big that a pair of freshman who have shown the ability to get big hits consistently, Kasey Clemens and Zane Gurwitz, bring up the rear of the order in the eight and nine slots.
And Thornhill. Oh, Thornhill. The kid went a complete game, gave up a single earned run, and saw his ERA increase slightly. Among the weekend starters he does not have the best "stuff" of the three and is not the most highly coveted by MLB scouts, but he is in a groove right now that is allowing him to control games like a 10-year veteran of the Show. As one of the ESPNU announcers said yesterday, Thornhill "just knows how to pitch."
What it all adds up to is a team looking poised to make the worst-to-first jump we coveted in our season previews. Halfway through the conference season they sit atop the standings by one game, with their two closest competitors--OSU and TCU--next on the schedule, both in Austin. For years, Augie Garrido's teams succeeded with pro-level pitching and barely enough offense to get the job done. In 2014, that has been necessary for some stretches and may well be again in the coming weeks.
But against a solid (albeit not fantastic) OU team on the road, this year's squad showed it also has the ability to provide enough offense to give its pitchers--shock!--a comfortable cushion. And on Friday, it showed the ability to hit its way out of a fielding-created jam. It's that versatility, the ability to get a win in whatever situation you find yourself in, that excited me most about this team right now. I'm not ready to go all in after two years of being burned, but for now it's a lot of fun to watch.