Another comeback victory for the No. 13 Texas Longhorns continued the overall season trajectory, this time against the Xavier Musketeers when center fielder Duke Ellis stroked a two-run, two-strike double into deep left-center field to cap a three-run 12th inning that overcame a late Xavier lead for a 6-5 win at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday.
With the Horns forced to score two runs to tie the game, the Musketeers thought that third baseman Ryan Reynolds struck out to open the inning, but the redshirt sophomore battled back to single through the left side and first baseman Tate Shaw followed with his own infield single to the shortstop. A wild pitch moved the runners up and replacement catcher Caston Peter hit a hard liner into left field to score the first one with no outs.
Zach Zubia, a pinch hitter late in the game, then drew a walk to load the bases for Ellis, who walked to the plate facing a replacement left-hander on the mound. After two foul balls, the Xavier pitcher left Ellis a pitch up and over the plate and the junior didn’t miss, driving the game-winning double into the Austin night.
And so, for the first time in his baseball career, Ellis had his jersey ripped off in the ensuing celebration, exposing a cat t-shirt that Reynolds offered up to the team and Ellis eventually claimed. He’ll be wearing it again on Saturday.
The victory was the 11th comeback win for a Texas team defined by those performances. Given that the Horns seemed on the verge of another disappointing loss after moving beyond the difficult stretch of the schedule, perhaps this game will be a catalyst for some easier wins moving forward.
Or maybe Pierce’s team will simply continue doing what it has done all season — playing its best baseball with its backs against the wall.
Friday starter Bryce Elder turned in what is now an expected performance — the sophomore right-hander went 6.0 innings with zero earned runs while scattering six hits. At times, he gave up base hits when he elevated his fastball, similar to other games this season, but he was able to work out of his biggest jam.
In the fifth inning, Xavier led off with two singles before botching a bunt attempt resulted in a fielder’s choice that eliminated the lead runner. Elder then induced pop ups to third base and center field to end the threat.
Against a pitcher who entered the game making his first start of the season and boasting an ERA just under 10.00, the performance was less than inspired. In fact, when Elder departed the game in the top of the seventh, the Musketeers held a 6-3 in base hits.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, the offense was able to manufacture two runs in the second inning against Damien Richard. In fact, all three hits against Richard through seven innings came in that frame, as shortstop Masen Hibbeler, second baseman Lance Ford, and Reynolds all singled to start the inning, with Hibbeler scoring on the base hit by Reynolds. Following a sacrifice bunt and strikeout, Ford scored on a wild pitch.
Reliever Kolby Kubichek had an easy inning replacing Elder in the seventh, then got himself into a jam in the eighth with a leadoff walk and a single. Faced with several big at bats, Kubichek struck out No. 3 hitter Conor Grammes on four pitches. However, Kubichek lost the next batter after getting ahead 0-2, prompting Texas head coach David Pierce to bring in setup man Cole Quintanilla.
The redshirt freshman wasn’t able to extinguish the threat, hitting the first batter on his second pitch to force a runner home and then giving up a sacrifice fly. A groundout to third did limit the damage, but Xavier tied the game with two runs in the eighth on only one hit, continuing recent struggles to put opponents away with late leads.
Heading to the plate in the bottom of the eighth, Texas hadn’t recorded a base hit since that productive second inning. And that didn’t change as Richard gave way to a reliever who hit Ellis, but Texas otherwise didn’t threaten Xavier.
Quintanilla gave up a two-out double head in the count before retiring the side and giving the Longhorns a chance to win in walk-off fashion. Instead, Texas went quietly into extra innings, though Ford and Reynolds at least forced Xavier reliever Lane Flamm to throw some pitches. And Reynolds did hit a ball well to deep left field.
Entering extra innings, Kamron Fields came in to pitch for the first time after his disastrous outings against TCU last weekend in which he gave up five runs. The results weren’t much better, as Fields walked the second batter he faced on four pitches, allowed a steal, then hit the third batter on a 2-0 pitch. The sophomore recovered to strike out the next hitter, but then threw two wild pitches to give up the go-ahead run.
Texas finally battled back with the game on the line. Pinch hitter Sam Bertelson singled up the middle with one out before pinch runner Bryce Reagan advanced to second on a groundout by pinch hitter Zach Zubia. Down to a final strike, Ellis singled through the right side to score Reagan and tie the game.
Just as importantly, he advanced to second on the throw, setting up a chance to walk off for left fielder Eric Kennedy. The freshman grounded out to second to induce an extra frame.
In the top of the 12, reliever Tristan Stevens got in trouble after an easy 11th, walking the first two batters he faced before he was removed in favor of left-hander Brandon Ivey. The senior was close to getting out of the inning after inducing a groundout that resulted in a rundown at the plate, but the out eventually allowed the batter to advance to second.
So, when Jake Shepski singled up the middle and Hibbeler faked a throw towards first and couldn’t deliver a strong throw to home, Xavier scored two runs on the play and in the inning without hitting the ball out of the infield.
Ultimately, however, the Musketeers pitching staff couldn’t put the Longhorns away and it cost the visiting team an important victory to open the series.
First pitch on Saturday is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network and 104.9 The Horn.