On a cold day in Austin, the No. 12 Texas Longhorns stayed hot, as head coach David Pierce’s team rallied late to defeat the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros, 4-3. Texas completed their sixth come-from-behind victory on the season with a three-run eighth inning.
With Pierce still searching for his midweek starter, sophomore Matt Whelan got the nod for the Horns. Prior to today’s game, he had been exceptional in his two appearances, logging six innings of work, striking out three, and allowing just four hits, one walk, and one run to amount to a 1.50 ERA.
On Tuesday, however, Whelan was as erratic as the Texas weather in March. He was only able to muster three innings of work, and though he struck out three Vaqueros, he also walked three and gave up a hit. In all, Whelan had good stuff on the mound, but he couldn’t harness it in, as he played around the zone all day.
The first runs of the game came in the fourth inning, courtesy of the visitors. After Whelan allowed a walk and a single to lead off the inning, Pierce decided to call upon sophomore right-hander Kameron Fields to relieve Whelan.
Fields got out of the inning, but not before throwing two wild pitches allowed his inherited runners to score. Halfway through the fourth, UTRGV led 2-0.
The Longhorns cut the lead in half in the sixth inning.
On a full count with two outs, junior right fielder Austin Todd doubled down the left field line to score freshman left fielder Eric Kennedy from second base. The hit gave the Longhorns their first breath of life, but stalled there as senior first baseman DJ Petrinsky struck out to end the inning with Texas trailing 2-1.
UTRGV added another run in the seventh off of freshman right-hander Kolby Kubicheck to extend the lead to 3-1. Texas put some runners on base in the bottom of the seventh, but was not able to score any runs and entered the eighth inning down two.
With the sun setting over UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Texas saw their chances at a win also diminishing.
Then in the eighth inning, the Longhorns came alive.
If you’re a fan of small ball baseball, the inning could not have started better for Texas. A lead off single, walk, and single from freshman shortstop Bryce Reagan, junior center fielder Duke Ellis, and Kennedy, respectively, loaded the bases for Todd. The junior who hit the walk-off single up the middle to defeat LSU on Sunday, must have studied his own tape from that game, as his grounder up the middle plated two Horns to tie the game.
Went and tied it up, @austin_todd_10. pic.twitter.com/bmA6NR4u2O— Texas Baseball (@TexasBaseball) March 6, 2019
Senior Tate Shaw, in a pinch-hit appearance, popped up deep to left field to score Kennedy from third, and the Longhorns, at long last, had their first lead of the game. Following strikeouts from redshirt sophomore third baseman Ryan Reynolds and redshirt sophomore Zach Zubia as a pinch hitter, the game headed into the ninth inning with Texas up 4-3.
Newly appointed closer Cole Quintanilla, a redshirt freshman coming off Tommy John surgery, slammed the doors shut as he has done all season, throwing a 1-2-3 inning to seal the game for Texas. In an unusual circumstance, the game ended when the umpires ruled that the UTRGV batter didn’t try to avoid a pitch from Quintanilla that hit him. Since that was the third strike, the game ended with a plunked batter.
It’s tough to read into a game like this — the cold weather and wind absolutely killed fly balls and dampened any kind of offense from either team. What CAN be taken away, though, is that Todd, and this team, are ridiculously clutch.
Todd, who was responsible for three of the four runs Texas scored in this game, is now eighth in the NCAA this season with 20 RBI.
As for the rest of this team, a major challenge heading into the season was replacing talent on the both sides of the game after losing several key pitchers and fielders to the draft and graduation. So far this season, we’ve seen plenty of Longhorns step up to the metaphorical and literal plate and deliver in big moments.
In solo performances, Ellis leads the NCAA in walks and continues to get on base for the heart of the lineup behind him. Quintanilla has mowed down batters in his relief roles showing poise as if he’s a redshirt senior.
And all season long, the pitching performances, though not perfect, have always kept the Horns in the game and given Texas chances to win in every game they’ve played in. Even in games the Horns have lost or trailed — they’ve never let a game get away from them.
That’s incredibly valuable for a team as young as Texas — it creates opportunities like tonight and Sunday to play in close games and learn how to handle winning from behind.
Texas will look to win their season-high fifth game in a row this Thursday, with their next game on the road against No. 6 Stanford.