Happy Birthday, young Connor Mayes.
The 19-year-old freshman from Lake Travis celebrated his big day in high fashion, throwing a two-hit, complete-game shutout with 10 strikeouts to help the Texas Longhorns drop the Baylor Bears, 4-0, and advance to Sunday's title game of the Big 12 Baseball Championship in Tulsa.
The sterling performance from the staff's future ace was also a historic one -- following the complete games from Parker French and Ty Culbreth to start the tournament, Mayes' effort marked the third straight by the staff, a feat accomplished by no other school in Big 12 Baseball Championship history.
Mayes got some early help from his offense, no doubt allowing him some extra peace of the mind on the mound. Texas catcher Tres Barrera is quickly becoming a major Baylor nemesis, having shot the game-winning hit into left field on Thursday before starting the scoring on Saturday with a two-run home run in the top of the first.
Yup, that was not a good location. And Barrera didn't miss it. Not even a little bit.
Despite all the one-run losses this season, the Horns have taken care of business after starting quickly, winning 21 of 27 this season when scoring first.
But after center fielder Zane Gurwitz got picked off second base in the second inning, the Horns went a long stretch without getting a runner on base, seemingly relaxing mentally with the 2-0 lead.
It wasn't until the sixth inning that Texas threatened again, loading the bases with one out. However, right fielder Collin Shaw couldn't execute and popped out weakly to the second baseman. With one last opportunity, second baseman Brooks Marlow ripped a liner, but right at his Baylor counterpart to end the Texas threat.
The needed two-out hit finally came in the seventh inning, when Marlow had another opportunity and took advantage of an 0-2 fastball left over the middle by singling into left-center to score two runs. It came with the bases loaded after Shaw once again failed to execute with a runner on third and one out.
The real story, though, was once again on the mound.
Like previous Horns pitchers in Tulsa this week, Mayes started out with excellent stuff, striking out five batters through the first three innings and not allowing a hit until the first batter in the fourth. His changeup was especially devastating and benefited from the excellent glovework of catcher Michael Cantu to consistently give the umpire a great look at pitches without obviously framing it.
The fourth represented the first serious challenge for Mayes after giving up a weak base hit up the middle and a walk. His control faltered out of the stretch, but he was able to recover and strike out the final two batters to end the threat. The same thing happened again in the sixth, with Baylor loading the bases, this time after a hit and two walks.
Head coach Augie Garrido decided to stick with his starter and Mayes rewarded that confidence when the Baylor hitter took a weak swing at the first pitch and lofted a popout eventually corralled near the stands by third baseman Bret Boswell.
Mayes then worked through a pretty easy seventh inning, ending it by inducing his first groundout of the game. It came on his 100th pitch. The eighth came and went quickly as Mayes struck out two and faced the minimum.
Now Texas will just have to wait for the winner of the afternoon game(s) before playing tomorrow at noon CT on FOX Sports 1. The starter in that game? Garrido said that Wednesday starter Parker French threw today and didn't experience any soreness, so he'll take the mound. As if there was ever any doubt.
Oklahoma will have to win two games today against Oklahoma State to advance to the championship. Texas played much better against the Sooners this season than the Cowboys, so...
Well, that just feels wrong. So how about this -- hook 'em, Connor, and enjoy the rest of your birthday.