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Texas baseball takes first two games against UCLA

The Longhorns are now on a four game win streak after handling the Bruins in the first two games of the series.

David Pierce
@Texasbaseball Twitter

Texas Longhorns baseball (11-6) has taken two straight against the UCLA Bruins (6-7), after a 5-4 comeback Friday win and 5-2 Saturday victory. The Longhorns will now have a chance to sweep the series on Sunday at 1 pm CST at Disch-Falk Field. Texas has won its last four games after dropping three straight to Stanford last weekend.

Both the batting order and pitching rotation has been shaken up by David Pierce. Most notably, Kyle Johnston has been placed in the closing role after Chase Shugart’s early struggles at the position.

Expect Blair Henley to take the mound for the ‘Horns tomorrow.

But first, a recap of the first two games.

Friday — Game 1

Texas showed the resilience the team lacked against Stanford in this one. UCLA jumped out to a 1-0 lead with a homer in the second, but solo shots by the Patrick Mathis in the bottom of the second and Kacy Clemens in the third made it 2-1 ‘Horns. The Bruins reclaimed the lead with a three run long ball in the seventh to make it 4-2. Texas didn’t roll over — a Kody Clemens RBI ground-out in the seventh made it 4-3, and a Travis Jones double in the eighth knocked home the speedy Tyler Rand to knot things up in the eighth. Later in the inning, a bases loaded walk to Kody Clemens scored Jones to make it 5-4 ‘Horns. Kyle Johnston came on in the ninth to close things out, and Texas notched the series opening win.

Pitching Notes:

- Nolan Kingham earned the honor of starting in the Friday spot after his dominant performance in the same position last weekend. The sophomore delivered another solid performance, allowing only one run on five hits in six full innings pitched.

- Beau Ridgeway came on in relief for Kingham and gave up what seemed at the time to be a back-breaking three run homer to UCLA.

- The most interesting development was who came on to close in the ninth -- Kyle Johnston. It was the junior’s first ever performance in the role. With so many dominant starting pitchers and poor relief pitching, David Pierce has turned to one of his studs to move from starter to stopper. Johnston was flawless, striking out the side. His high heat and nasty off-speed stuff could make him a weapon out of the bullpen in his new spot at closer.

Hitting Notes:

- Pierce started to shake up his order after his team reached below a .200 batting average. Most notable in Friday’s lineup was having Tate Shaw leadoff. Shaw notched a single and is now 3-8 on the year. Time will tell if the redshirt sophomore is ready for a bigger role on the team -- with two strikeouts and one hit on the day, he didn’t really make a strong case either way.

- Kacy Clemens’ homer brings him to a team high four on the year. Though he has cooled off some from his red hot beginning of the year, the senior is still clearly a leader on this club. His slash line this year — .321/.623/.439

- Brett Boswell has emerged as perhaps Texas’ best hitter. After a rough sophomore season and subsequent great summer, the junior has settled in to being one of the few reliable bats in the order. He had two hits in four at bats in his last three games leading up to Saturday’s match-up with UCLA.

- Patrick Mathis was 2-2 on the day, including a solo homer to start the scoring for the ‘Horns. He has been in a slump to start 2017, but clearly possesses the power and potential to be a force in the Texas lineup.

* * *

Saturday — Game 2

An ugly, rainy day made for an ugly, rainy game. In a match that was over four hours, Texas earned a 5-2 gritty win despite often bad pitching and the inability of the offense to build off of a first inning 4-0 lead. The ‘Horns allowed the Bruins to linger, but ultimately sealed the deal again thanks to another save by Kyle Johnston.

Pitching notes:

- Morgan Cooper probably had one of his most volatile games of the season, which is a testament to how good he’s been. After retiring the first six batters of the game, Cooper wasn’t economical with his pitches in his last three innings. The righty threw a whopping 117 pitches in five complete innings, and gave up four walks. In the third inning, he uncharacteristically allowed three walks to load the bases, and then a wild pitch to score a UCLA runner. A passed ball on a strikeout would be the other run to cross the plate under Cooper’s watch. However, Coop’s career high 10 strikeouts were impressive and he now boasts a 1.88 ERA, 14 hits, and 29 strikeouts in 24 innings pitched in the season.

- Nick Kennedy replaced Cooper and threw five straight balls, which was not a great sign for the lefty who has had trouble finding the strike zone this season. Kennedy would go on to walk another batter in his 1.1 innings pitched, but also recorded two strikeouts and a double play in his five batters faced. In the post game interview, Pierce said he was happy with how Kennedy performed today so look for the lefty to continue to get opportunities in relief.

- Jake McKenzie threw for a full seven pitches in relief of Kennedy. After being used His full count walk was the only batter he faced on the day.

- Chase Shugart then entered the game and like Kennedy, notched two strikeouts and two walks in five batters faced.

- Beau Ridgeway retired two batters in the eighth to set up a save opportunity for Kyle Johnston in the ninth. Though Johnston did surrender a two out walk, he again performed admirably in the closing spot, retiring the other three batters he faced. It will be interesting to see if Johnston starts against Texas A&M this Tuesday, or if the stopper position will become a permanent role for him.

- Texas pitchers walked 10 batters, but struck out 14. Maybe that’s why they looked simultaneously competent and bad on Saturday. It’s a little bit of a wonder that only two runs were given up, but then again, it just shows that the bullpen is better at sealing the deal then it was last season.

Hitting notes:

- Ryan Reynolds was the clear MVP of the day. Hitting under .200 on the year, the freshman hasn’t gotten out to the start he wanted this season after tearing it up in the fall, but he showed today why David Pierce continues to put him in the batting order. He went 3-4 on the day, with a homer and a double to his name. His solo shot came at an opportune time for Texas, as the ‘Horns has just allowed a UCLA run to cut into the lead to make 4-1. Reynolds’ long-ball helped ensure that Texas wouldn’t be letting the Bruins back in it.

- Travis Jones also reached base in three of four at bats. He was 2-3 with a walk, and was the first batter scored today.

- There were four Texas doubles in the game — Kacy Clemens, Austin Todd, David Hamilton, and Ryan Reynolds all had two-baggers.

- Texas hitters only struck out three times today — a welcome stat considering the ‘Horns had struck out 131 times in sixteen games entering Saturday.