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Texas Baseball Recap: Horns split 4-game series at Rice

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Augie Garrido was able to get plenty of young players experience as the Horns split the season opening series at Reckling Park against a legitimate top-20 team.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

To open the season, the Horns were able to overcome the Owls getting the leadoff batter aboard in 7 innings to post a 3-1 victory on the heels of Collin Shaw bringing 2 runs across in the 7th. Saturday was a little rougher, with Texas dropping both games in the double header, the first a 10-9 high-scoring-affair and the second a 5-2 showing.

On Sunday, Texas turned to junior right-hander Chad Hollingsworth, his first appearance since breakout performances in the 2014 postseason. The early returns for Hollingsworth were promising, as he started with 4 scoreless innings of work including retiring the side in order in both the 3rd and 4th innings. In the 5th, the righty was unable to work out of trouble, finding the bases loaded after a pair of singles, sac-bunt, and intentional walk loaded the bases. An RBI single and 2 run single put Rice ahead 3-0 before bullpen lefty Kirby Bellow came on to notch the 3rd out of the inning.

In the 7th, junior outfielder Ben Johnson was able to continue his strong play through the opening weekend with a two run RBI and by reaching third on a misplayed ball in the outfield. CJ Hinojosa, benched Sunday after a slow start to the weekend by being late to a team breakfast Sunday and dealing with a jammed finger, brought Johnson across on the next at-bat as a pinch hitter, tying the game at 3 all.

The game remained at 3-3 through 9, drawing an extra inning to the long weekend. In the top of the 10th, sophomore Tres Barrera worked a two out walk, was moved across by a single from RS-freshman Bret Boswell, with freshman Michael McCann bringing Barrera across to take a 4-3 lead. Freshman Kyle Johnston closed the game in the bottom of the 10th to pull the Horns to the 2-2 series split.

Freshmen come up big early

Coming into the season, Texas was hoping an infusion of young offensive talent and contributions from young pitching would bolster what returned of 2014's CWS squad. And early on, redshirt freshman Bret Boswell is hitting .313 with a walk and two RBIs, and contributed to Texas's 10th inning win on Sunday. Freshman Michael McCann saw his first action on Sunday, and while struggled going 1-5 with 2 strikeouts, he contributed the go-ahead RBI on Sunday.

On the mound, freshman Jake McKenzie brought 2.2 innings of scoreless work on Saturday with 2 hits and 2 Ks. The highlight, though, came from freshman Kyle Johnston, who picked up the save on Sunday on 2/3 inning of work, and featured a 96 mph fastball. Augie had some thoughts on Johnston following the performance:

[Kyle] Johnston, of the freshman pitchers, has had the most experience in that role and that's why we saved him for that role. He has actually pitched a lot in high school as a closer. He looked really relaxed, and the mature sign of his relaxation and his confidence in himself was, first of all, even recognizing the pickoff sign, and then executing it to almost perfection. The timing was really good on that, he was really aggressive, but still under control. That might be the highlight of the whole weekend. There were a lot of good things, and there were a lot of negative things, but I thought his performance was really good.

In total, 11 players made their debuts for Texas this weekend.

Ben Johnson gets off to a hot start

While he doesn't need to post Mark Payton type numbers to have a successful 2015, Ben Johnson did start his season off on the right foot, leading the squad going 8 of 15 at the plate with 5 runs, 5 RBIs, and a homer.

Starters struggle while bullpen steps up

Veteran Parker French went 5 IP and gave up 4 hits and a run on Friday, Saturday starters Kacy Clemens (3 IP, 8 hits and 8 runs) and Josh Sawyer (4.1 IP, 7 hits and 5 runs) struggled in their first time in the spotlight, and Chad Hollingsworth struggled late with 4.2 IP, 8 hits and 3 runs. While not a bad opening series, the starting rotation is still very much a work in progress.

Fortunately, the bullpen was ready to pick up the slack, especially behind left handed relievers senior Kirby Bellow and junior Ty Culbreth. Bellow put in 4.1 IP of work with a 1-1 record, 4 hits, 4 Ks to no walks, and only a run allowed. Culbreth contributed 3.1 innings of scoreless work, with 3 hits, 2 Ks, and a walk. Freshman Jake McKenzie didn't allow a run in 2.2 innings, and junior lefty Travis Duke contributed 2 scoreless innings with 4 hits in a win. Adding to scoreless performances were freshmen Conner Mayes, Tyler Schimpf, and Kyle Johnston.