The Texas Longhorns (9-9) dropped their fifth straight game on Wednesday afternoon, losing to the No. 5 Arkansas Razorbacks, 7-5. It’s a game script and a result that has been all too familiar for Texas when they play against ranked opponents.
Texas scored first in the game with some good ol’ fashioned Augie small ball play (get well soon, coach) and some miscues from Arkansas. Masen Hibbeler and David Hamilton led the game off with back-to-back walks. Later in the inning, after a Zach Zubia ground out scored Hibbeler and advanced Hamilton to third, a wild pitch plated Hamilton and give the Longhorns an early 2-0 lead.
Nico O’Donnell took the mound for the Longhorns and held the Razorbacks scoreless through one with a great two-strikeout inning of work. However, in the second inning O’Donnell started to get hit around. After getting two ground outs, O’Donnell gave up a solo homer to put Arkansas on the board.
While the Arkansas bats were waking up, the Texas bats struggled to get anything going. Despite being shut down through four innings, the ‘Horns entered the bottom of the fourth with a 2-1 lead.
Texas is getting no-hit while Arkansas has 1 run on 3 hits.— Burnt Orange Nation (@BON_SBNation) March 14, 2018
Texas leads 2-1.
Of course, as most Texas games this year have shown us, a big inning for the opposing team was on the way.
A lead off walk and subsequent single put runners on the corners for Arkansas with no outs to start the fourth inning. A grounder fielded by 3B Kody Clemens yielded a throwing error to first, scoring one for Arkansas. The next batter for the Hogs brought in two off a single, and an overthrow to second from 1B Ryan Reynolds advanced the runner to second. Without recording a single out in the fourth, Pierce pulled O’Donnell and ended what was easily the worst start of the freshman’s Longhorn career.
Nico O’Donnell: 3.0 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
Bryce Verplank was brought in for relief, but after issuing a walk he was pulled in favor of Josh Sawyer. Sawyer worked the rest of the inning, but not before the Razorbacks scored one more to increase their lead to 5-2.
Texas answered in the fifth inning with a run thanks to a Clemens RBI double. After loading the bases with just one out, it looked like Texas would finally breakthrough on offense. An Austin Todd ground out into a double play, however, ended the inning for Texas and kept the Arkansas lead at 5-3.
After giving up a run in the seventh, Texas again sparked up some offense. In the top of the eighth inning, Zubia led off with a shot to left-center field that bounced off the wall and resulted in a double. Austin Todd and Ryan Reynolds followed up with singles, and Zubia scored to whittle the Razorback lead to 6-4. With one out, a Duke Ellis single to left field scored Todd, and the lead was now just 6-5 Arkansas. Hibbeler was then hit by a pitch, and, now with two outs and the bases loaded, Pierce elected for Michael McCann to pinch hit for David Hamilton.
Watching this game live, I saw the potential for what would be a gritty comeback win against a top team, and on the road nonetheless. Despite getting clobbered by Stanford and in game 1 against Arkansas, a good McCann at bat could’ve given the ‘Horns a bright spot to build momentum off of as they head home.
Instead, McCann promptly struck out on four pitches, and with it went the best chance at a comeback victory. Arkansas added one more run in the bottom of the eighth, but a scoreless ninth ended the game for the Longhorns with a disappointing 7-5 loss.
This was a game that Texas really needed going into conference play. Sitting at .500 with poor outings against ranked opponents (Texas has a 2-7 record and was outscored 42-77) doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence going forward. The most disappointing part of this record, though, has been the performance from the pitching staff.
Excluding the 11-1 victory over LSU, the remaining eight games have all seen Texas surrender at least six runs a game and gave up more than 10 runs in a game four times. Given that pitching was seen as the team’s strong suit going into the season, it’s very perplexing that they’ve struggled as a unit as much as they have.
Though the non-conference performance was reminiscent of a Texas football season, there’s still plenty of baseball left and no reason to believe the ‘Horns can’t get better. The last week has been troubling to say the least, but hopefully Pierce and the ‘Horns can right the ship and have a good finish to the season.
The team will only have a few days to reflect on their road trip and Stanford series before playing again, as Texas welcomes Kansas and Big 12 Conference play to UFCU-Disch Falk Field this weekend with the first game coming Friday night. Here’s to hoping the Longhorns can start conference play off strong.