Unlike in basketball this year (cries in Bevo), the No. 12 Texas Longhorns were able to rally from behind and hold off the No. 11 Texas Tech Red Raiders in a thrilling 4-3 victory Friday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The Longhorns rode a three-run sixth inning and four dominant innings of relief to earn their first conference victory of the season.
The game started at a pace slower than a Texas Tech reading program, with the first score of the game coming in the third inning. After getting two outs, Texas starting pitcher Bryce Elder walked three straight batters to load the bases. The Red Raiders took advantage with consecutive RBI hits to take the 3-0 lead.
Elder bounced back, though, and regained the form that made him the team’s most dominant starter this season — he pitched two more innings — five in total — and recorded four strikeouts, with seven hits and three earned runs allowed.
Once Elder got through his five innings, the Texas bats came alive. Texas Tech’s starting pitcher Erikson Lanning hadn’t allowed a single Longhorn on base up until the fifth inning, when the Horns got one run across the plate to cut into the deficit.
A leadoff ground rule double over the short left field fence from sophomore designated hitter Zach Zubia represented the first hit of the game for Texas. Later that inning, senior first baseman Tate Shaw drove a pop fly to center field that scored Zubia. Texas followed up a successful half inning on offense with a clean, 1-2-3 inning from freshman right-hander Ty Madden in relief in the top of the sixth.
With the Texas bats finally showing signs of life, and with opposing starter Lanning at 100 pitches, Texas Tech decided to make a pitching change to start the bottom of the sixth.
And, well, that decision worked out for Texas Tech about as well as Tech’s defensive secondary did this past fall.
The Longhorns immediately attacked the new pitcher on the mound, with a leadoff single from freshman second baseman Lance Ford to start the inning off. Junior center fielder Duke Ellis bunted into a fielder’s choice, but a single by freshman left fielder Eric Kennedy and a walk drawn by junior right fielder Austin Todd walk loaded the bases with one out for Zubia.
After a grueling nine-pitch at bat, Zubia eventually lifted an outside pitch to right field for a sacrifice fly. The throw home sailed over the catcher’s head, allowing Ellis to score from third, and for both runners left on base to advance into scoring position.
Sophomore third baseman Ryan Reynolds followed Zubia to the plate and worked a full count with two outs. With the near-sellout crowd back in the game, Reynolds ripped a one-bounce grounder to the third base side that ricocheted off of Tech’s third baseman, allowing both runners on base to score. Senior shortstop Masen Hibbeler struck out as the next man up, but the damage was done and the Longhorns entered the seventh inning with a freshly-minted 4-3 lead.
On in relief came sophomore right-hander Kamron Fields. The athletic hybrid pitcher/outfielder has shown flashes of brilliance from the mound this season with an electric fastball and crafty off-speed offerings.
However, tonight was without a doubt the greatest pitching performance of the sophomore’s career.
Fields introduced himself to the heart of the Texas Tech lineup with a 1-2-3 inning, including one strikeout. He followed that up with another 1-2-3 inning, including his second strikeout of the game.
Texas wasn’t able to provide any insurance for Fields over the next two innings, and with the Longhorns only up one run entering the top of the ninth, head coach David Pierce had a tough decision to make — stick with the dominating reliever with a high pitch count or go to the bullpen for a fresh arm for the last three outs.
Unlike Tech, Pierce chose to ride the hot hand. And, unlike Tech, this decision worked out pretty well.
Fields threw his third, final, and most impressive perfect inning of the game by striking out all three Red Raiders he faced. Fields more than earned his second save of the season, as he struck out five Red Raiders and didn’t allow a baserunner in his three innings of work.
This baseball game was a true tale of two halves if you split the game up as before and after Texas Tech scored those three runs. Prior to Tech gaining three, the Longhorns had no hits, and Elder was good, but not great, and eventually allowed the Raiders to get on the board.
But once Tech took the lead, everything from that point forward was Texas.
Texas would finally get the bats going, and get just enough from their offense to take a lead. Turns out all the Longhorns needed after that was one run, seeing as how the Texas Tech offense produced as much action as Lubbock does on an average night. Ty Madden and Kamron Fields combined to throw four no-hit innings against one of the best offenses in baseball, completely shutting down the Raiders’ chances of a comeback.
Texas will hit the diamond tomorrow, looking to clinch a series victory against Texas Tech. The first pitch is set for 2:30 pm Central, and you can catch the action live at the Disch, on Longhorn Network, or on 104.9 FM The Horn.