For the sixth time in a row, the Texas Longhorns failed to get a win as their season is in danger to being over sooner rather than later. The Horns (24-21, 5-11) lost a late back-and-forth 9-8 affair at the hands of the No. 17 West Virginia Mountaineers (26-14, 10-7) on Saturday in Austin. Texas has now lost the series and will play to avoid a sweep on Sunday.
After Blair Henley retired the side to start the game, Texas jumped out to a one-run lead over West Virginiah. Following a single to right field from Masen Hibbeler, a sac bunt from Eric Kennedy allowed Hibbeler to advance to second. Later in the inning, with Hibbeler on third, Ryan Reynolds capitalized on a high fastball and laced an RBI single to right field. At this point, Texas will take anything and everything at the plate as the Longhorns are in a must-win situation.
Unfortunately, that lead didn’t last long as the Mountaineers took it right back with a three-run third that could’ve been worse. Initially, Henley was rolling through the inning by getting two quick outs, but the third out proved troublesome following an error by Hibbeler. West Virginia tied the game up thanks to a RBI single from Brandon White that just squeezed by Bryce Reagan at second. Still with two outs, the Mountaineers capitalized on a bases-loaded situation as Ivan Gonzalez RBI singled through the left side of the infield to score two bringing the score 3-1. Henley threw a total of 30 pitches that inning, eclipsing his total from his previous two innings at 27.
Texas managed to get a run back in the bottom of the third, making it a one-fun ballgame. Following an Austin Todd walk, a Zach Zubia single to third base resulted in an overthrow trying to get Zubia at first. The overthrow paved the way for a hustling Austin Todd to score all the way from second.
West Virginia followed their three-run third with a two more in the top of the fourth. Once again, Henley was able to get two quick outs but another throwing error by Hibbeler opened the door for the Mountaineers to extend their lead. Henley, despite getting ahead in the count for the majority of at bats, surrendered three consecutive singles, which resulted in two more runs for the visiting team.
The game essentially started over after that, as the Longhorns tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. Immediately following a pitching change from West Virginia, Hibbeler took the first pitch from new pitcher Dillon Meadows over the left field fence. Subsequent to single by Todd, Zubia launched a no-doubter over the left field fence to bring the ball game to a tie heading into the sixth.
With West Virginia threatening, David Pierce turned to his bullpen to bring out Matt Whelan to relieve Blair Henley on the mound. With a runner on second, the first pitch from Whelan skipped to home plate and went to the back of the backstop to move the runner up for a free 90 feet. Following a walk to put runners on the corners, an RBI sac bunt scored the runner from third. The bunt put Whelan in a tough position as the ball seemed like it was going foul, but the pitcher decided to pick it up and throw out the runner at first, giving West Virginia back the lead.
Moving to the seventh, after Kamron Fields struck out the side, the Longhorns rallied back to take a two-run lead. Hibbeler, Kennedy, and Zubia all singled to put the Horns in a bases-loaded situation. Ryan Reynolds continued his great day at the plate with an RBI single down the right field line, scoring two and giving him his third RBI of the day. Texas capped off the inning with an RBI fly out by Tate Shaw to score Zubia from third and bring the score to 8-6.
The back-and-forth affair continued as the Mountaineers clawed back with a run of their own in the top of the eighth. With one out and runners on the corner, Tevin Tucker attempted to steal second, but was easily in thanks to a throwing error by Michael McCann that went into the outfield. The fourth error from the Longhorns came at a bad time since it allowed a run in for the Mountaineers. Fortunately, the Longhorns escaped the top of the eighth with a one-run lead looking to close out a much-needed win.
When the Horns went down in order in the bottom of the eighth, Fields was set to face the heart of the West Virginia order with a one-run lead. Longhorns fans are too familiar with what happened next — back-to-back hits brought it to a deadlock once again at eight with no outs. Pierce made a call to the bullpen for Cole Quintanilla, hoping to move past the outing he had against Texas State.
Despite getting the first out of the inning, Quintanilla was called for his third balk of the season to move the go-ahead runner 90 feet to third. TJ Lake then laid down a well-executed sac bunt to score Inman from third and just like that, the Horns trailed by one, headed to the bottom of the ninth with their last ups.
With Todd leading off the inning with a single up the middle of the infield, Sam Bertelson then followed that up with a four-pitch walk. With both the tying and winning run on with no outs, Reynolds hit a dribbler in the infield that resulted in a fielder’s choice. Later in the inning, Reynolds moved up 90 feet to second thanks to a passed ball, but it wasn’t far enough for Todd to score from third. Todd never scored from third anyway as a full-count strikeout from Shaw and a line out from Duke Ellis ended the Texas rally and the game.
It was yet another gut-wrenching loss by the Longhorns as their season is pretty much on its last breath. With another series loss in conference play, at home no less, Texas is now dead last in the Big 12. Looking ahead, an at-large big to enter the NCAA tournament is not looking too good, so Texas will have to fight with Kansas (believe it or not) to get that eighth seed to qualify for the Big 12 Tournament. The Longhorns will head to Lawrence soon for a series, so you can decide if that’s a good or bad thing.
Texas will look to avoid a sweep on Sunday at UFCU Disch Falk Field as the first pitch is scheduled for noon Central. You can catch the game on the Longhorn Network or listen in on 104.9 The Horn.