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Big inning for BYU dooms No. 19 Texas in 5-4 series finale

The Cougars scored five runs in the sixth as the Longhorns bullpen melted down and David Pierce’s team couldn’t produce key base hits in the final innings to tie or regain the lead.

Tanner Witt
Texas baseball

Freshman right-hander Tanner Witt pitched 3.1 innings to give the No. 19 Texas Longhorns a chance to overcome a five-run sixth inning by the BYU Cougars, but the Longhorns couldn’t come up with the needed hits down the stretch in a 5-4 loss at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Saturday.

Through five innings, Texas right-hander Tristan Stevens pitched well, retiring eight straight batters midway through his outing and inducing nine groundouts on a day when the wind was blowing out to left field at the Disch.

In the sixth inning, however, Stevens allowed four consecutive singles after striking out the leadoff batter, driving him from the game. With such an inexperienced bullpen, Longhorns head coach David Pierce is still searching for the right combinations in middle relief. On Saturday, his choices backfired until he turned to Witt.

Left-handed reliever Caden Noah entered the game with the bases loaded and hit the BYU batter with his first pitch to score a run. Another scored on a sacrifice fly to left field on Noah’s third pitch.

With right-hander Drew Shifflet on as the third pitcher of the game for the Longhorns, the Cougars scored two more runs on a single thanks to a wild pitch from Shifflet and took the lead with the five-run inning. A walk knocked Shifflet from the game without recording an out.

The big inning from BYU erased a 4-0 lead built by Texas.

A strong wind blowing out to left field at 20 miles per hour or more impacted the game early — in the bottom of the first, Texas right fielder Douglas Hodo III got a line drive high enough to carry out. In the top of the second, a fly ball off a BYU bat carried to the wall, where Longhorns left fielder Eric Kennedy came close to making the play on what became a double for the Cougars.

Stevens was able to strand the runner by inducing a flyout to right field and a grounder that he handled himself to retire the side to maintain the 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Texas first baseman Zach Zubia was hit in the head with a pitch, sparking a stare from Zubia towards the mound and enough chirping between the dugouts to result in warnings for both teams. After designated hitter Ivan Melendez walked on four pitches, BYU had a quick hook for starter Justin Sterner, who struck out five over 3.1 innings.

Ardoin came through after getting down 0-2 in the count, pulling a grounder past the diving Cougars shortstop to score Zubia from second base.

Texas stretched the lead to 4-0 in the fifth inning.

Center fielder Mike Antico singled to left field and stole second. Hodo then took a walk to put runners on first and second with no outs. When shortstop Trey Faltine hit into a double play, it looked like the opportunity might go by the wayside, but third baseman Cam Williams bounced back from two strikeouts to start the game to hit a two-run home run into the deepest part of the ballpark. It was the third home run of the season for Williams, the second of the series, and the sixth extra-base hit for him this season in his first 21 at bats.

After BYU took the lead, Witt had an exceptional performance with his low 90s fastball and multiple off-speed pitches working for him as his five strikeouts gave Texas a chance to tie or take the lead.

The execution simply wasn’t there on a day during which the Cougars were more successful attacking the strike zone — Texas only walked once on Saturday as BYU played error-free defense.

There were opportunities for the Longhorns after the Cougars took the lead.

Melendez led off the sixth inning with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Ardoin, but Kennedy lined a pitch at the right fielder and Pierce’s decision to pinch hit for second baseman Murphy Stehly with Dalton Porter produced an inning-ending groundout to shortstop.

In the ninth, Ardoin led off with a double into the right-field gap. Then Kennedy made the biggest offensive mistake of the game for Texas — attempting to lay down a bunt that could have gone for an infield single given Kennedy’s exceptional speed, the Florida native contact the ball in the field of play coming out of the batter’s box and was ruled out. After Dylan Campbell flied out to center field, Antico ended the game with a groundout to second base trying to pull the ball through the hole.

The loss drops Texas to 3-4 on the season with midweek games looming at home against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and on the road against Texas State on Wednesday.