The Texas Longhorns were cruising to an easy victory over the Baylor Bears until a game-tying three-home run in the top of the 9th, but catcher Tres Barrera ended the game in the bottom of the inning with a walk-off single for a 4-3 Big 12 Tournament victory on Thursday in Tulsa.
Barrera came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs after an intentional walk to left fielder Ben Johnson and a flyout by designed hitter Joe Baker. Baylor took out starter Drew Tolson after 8 2/3 innings pitched and the move paid off for one pitch, as Barrera took a grand-slam swing well ahead of a breaking ball.
Then Texas head coach Augie Garrido called Barrera over for a meeting, apparently emphasizing shortening up his swing, but also telling a dirty joke in Spanish that helped cut the tension. On the next pitch, Barrera did exactly that, taking advantage of a mistake and sending it over the third baseman's head for the victory.
Just days ago Texas starting pitcher Ty Culbreth was decidedly average in three innings against the Baylor Bears.
On Thursday, Culbreth was anything but average through eight innings pitching lights out-baseball, generally confounding Baylor hitters with the location of his fastball and sharp offspeed offerings. For instance, it took him only 10 pitches to set down the side in order in the sixth inning. Making the performance even more remarkable was the fact that the Bears saw the Longhorns lefty just days ago when Culbreth pitched three innings in relief of Parker French on Saturday.
It was actually Culbreth who seemed to benefit from his earlier look at the Baylor lineup, as he gave up three runs (two earned) on five hits in that decidedly average appearance before mowing down the Bears with efficiency until his final inning of work, when he seemed to run out of gas.
Two singles by the Bears brought the tying run to the plate before Mitch Price hit an opposite-field home run to erase the Texas lead in one swing. Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson stuck with Culbreth, who was able to get the final two outs without any more damage for his first collegiate complete game.
With the masterful performance by Parker French on Wednesday against Texas Tech and Culbreth's own complete game, the Longhorns have now used only two pitchers through the tournament's first two games.
Texas was able to take an early lead thanks to some classic Augieball in the 2nd inning -- catcher Tres Barrera legged out a double, moved to third on a wild pitch influenced by right fielder Collin Shaw squaring for a bunt before the Westlake product was able to put down a perfect effort that scored Barrera.
A big inning was possible with runners on first and third when first baseman Kacy Clemens came to the plate, but he hit into a 3-6-3 double play. However, the Longhorns were able to add a second run because second basemen Brooks Marlow provided just enough time for center fielder Zane Gurwitz to score from third when he forced a throw back to first base.
Augie Garrido's squad also missed an opportunity to stretch the lead the next inning when a weak infield popup by shortstop CJ Hinojosa and a sharp lineout by catcher Tres Barrera left two runners on base.
The early lead was a positive sign for Texas -- on the season, the Horns are 19-6 when scoring first. And it was also an important start, as Baylor pitcher Drew Tolson began to get into a groove after the working out of that 3rd-inning jam, making it through the next several innings without any serious threats from Texas.
The Horns were able to add an insurance run in the 6th inning when three consecutive singles by Shaw, Gurwitz, and Marlow led to another run.
Texas will now receive a day off before playing at 9 a.m. CT on Saturday against the winner of the Baylor/Texas Tech elimination game on Friday. With the bullpen rested and the winner of the loser's bracket needing two victories to reach the championship game, the Longhorns are in a perfect position to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.