An Austin Todd two-run walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth propelled Texas Longhorns baseball to victory over UL-Lafayette 5-3 on Saturday afternoon, as the ‘Horns now move to 2-0 on the season.
The ‘Horns got off to a rocky start as the Cajuns went up a run off of Chase Shugart’s early struggles from the mound in the top half of the first. However, the Longhorns would get one right back in the bottom of the inning off of Kody Clemens’ slow roller to first to score Hamilton.
The offense for both teams sputtered in the following innings as both Shugart and Louisiana starting pitcher Nick Lee, who was the 2016 Freshman of the Year in the Sun Belt Conference, settled in and gained their rhythm. Texas broke the tie in the bottom of the fifth, as Clemens hit a liner into right field to score Hamilton from third to take the lead 2-1.
More strong pitching followed as Lee and Shugart exited the game in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. The pitching stat lines are listed below:
Nick Lee: 5IP, 2R, 1ER, 3H, 3BB, 6K’s, 88 pitches
Chase Shugart: 6.2IP, 1R, 3H, 0BB, 3K’s, 83 pitches
Coming in with two outs for Shugart was freshman Bryce Elder, who couldn’t have had a better start to his career. He threw three consecutive strikes to end the bottom of the seventh. He followed that with a 1-2-3 inning in the eighth.
Head coach David Pierce decided to go to the bullpen and call on the almost always reliable closer Beau Ridgeway, nursing a 2-1 lead. However, Ridgeway ended up hitting the batter on a 2-2 count that got a rally started for Louisiana.
A couple of great bunts followed as the Cajuns played small-ball to perfection, and had Texas on the ropes with bases loaded and no outs. A sacrifice fly by Tyler Stover to right field scored the run from third to tie the game at two. With runners on the corners, a successful suicide-squeeze play by the Cajuns put them ahead 3-2.
In the bottom of the ninth, Masen Hibbeler’s liner to center scored Duke Ellis to tie the game at three. The throw home allowed Hibbeler to advance to second base.
With first base open, the Cajuns chose to intentionally walk Kody Clemens. On ball four, however, the Cajun catcher bobbled the pitch. Hibbeler attempted to steal third but was thrown out.
With Clemens on first, Austin Todd stepped up and hammered the first pitch over the left field fence to secure a Texas victory and remain undefeated. It was the first home run of the season for Texas, and it could not have come at a better time.
Some key takeaways from the game from my vantage point:
· Texas is taking advantage of their improved team speed to be more aggressive on the base paths and put more pressure on opposing pitchers as they have not been caught stealing yet.
· Tate Shaw is showing why he belongs in the outfield, having a web gem catch in left field that probably saved a triple and a nice rundown near the warning track.
· David Hamilton is having good success in the leadoff role, which is great to see. Masen Hibbeler continues to be the best hitter of this series and he will be a name to watch as the season progresses.
· Today marked a career high in pitches for Chase Shugart that produced a well-pitched and efficient outing. That will be important for this team if they want to play into June.
· Lastly, on a less bright note, the Longhorns are struggling mightily with runners in scoring positions. With Texas going 9-17 last year in one run games, they will need to find more production in this area.
Texas is going for the sweep tomorrow, as Blair Henley will likely get the start to close out the series. First pitch is scheduled to be at 1 p.m. at the Disch.
Hook ’em ‘Horns!