Facing a BYU Cougars team playing its fifth game in five days, the No. 19 Texas Longhorns broke a three-game losing streak to start the season with a 3-1 win at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Wednesday evening.
Despite the absences of right fielder Austin Todd, first baseman Zach Zubia, and DJ Petrinsky, the Longhorns improved their approach at the plate enough to put the ball in play much more consistently — after striking out 46 times over three games during the State Farm College Baseball Showdown, Texas limited their strikeouts to five in the series opener against BYU.
The results didn’t necessarily reflect the improvement, as the Longhorns finished the game with only four hits and entered the bottom of the eighth in a 1-1 tie after Cougars third baseman Austin Deming sent an 0-2 pitch from Cole Quintanilla over the fence in left-center field.
Then Texas showed as much fortitude at the plate as they have during the young season. Third baseman Cam Williams doubled with one out for his second extra-base hit of the game and second baseman Murphy Stehly walked after Williams advanced to third on a passed ball.
But the Longhorns were on the verge of missing out on the scoring opportunity when Williams tried to score on a wild pitch but was tagged out at the plate when he got a poor read on the play. A fortuitous bounce off the wall helped the BYU catcher, too.
Grad transfer center fielder Mike Antico came to the plate nursing a 1-for-15 start to his career in burnt orange and white after right fielder Douglas Hodo III walked on seven pitches. Antico reached out over the plate to pull a 1-1 pitch through the right side of the infield to score two runs and provide the game’s final margin.
“At that point, I’m just trying to roll right through that (gap),” Antico said. ”That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t have to hit it too hard. I knew exactly what I had to do and I executed it.”
Earlier in the game, Antico had provided some cause for optimism with his swing moving forward while racking up a little more frustration. In the third inning, Antico hit a ball over Comal Street, but the umpire ruled it foul. After review, the call stood and Texas head coach David Pierce was subsequently ejected for arguing with the third-base umpire.
It was one of several swings on the day for the Longhorns that was good, but not good enough. Shortstop Trey Faltine nearly had two home runs of his own, one ruled foul, and the other caught at the fence. Williams did hit his second home run in the last two games, with his blast coming in the third inning and revealing a new approach to the batter’s eye in center field.
Recently raised, the high fence was always in play previously, making the cavernous field play even bigger, but Pierce recently decided that hitters should receive some reward for hitting the ball that far and Williams became the first player to benefit.
Yes Keith and Greg, that’s a homer.#HookEm | @55theHammer pic.twitter.com/t1SquIf8Wf— Texas Baseball (@TexasBaseball) February 25, 2021
On the mound, four Texas pitchers combined to hold BYU to three hits with seven strikeouts. Left-hander Pete Hansen received his first start of the season and went three innings with two strikeouts and two walks. Tasked with managing the final six innings, the bullpen performed better than it did in Arlington, with right-hander Drew Shifflet going three innings and working past a leadoff double in the sixth inning, the first hit for the Cougars. Quintanilla gave up the home run over his two innings of work, but got the win thanks to Antico’s clutch hit. And right-hander Tanner Witt earned the first save of his career with a perfect ninth inning that showcased the pure stuff and mound presence that made him such a highly-regarded prospect out of Houston Episcopal.
With rain forecast for Thursday afternoon, the second game of the series will start at 1 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.
Here's the lineup for today's 1 PM first pitch! pic.twitter.com/yFQGK5p06N— Texas Baseball (@TexasBaseball) February 25, 2021