Friday is Ty Day.
Behind seven strong innings from ace right-hander Ty Madden, who is quickly becoming appointment viewing this season for the burnt orange and white faithful, the No. 19 Texas Longhorns put away the No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks for an important non-conference win at UFCU Disch-Falk Field thanks to a three-run eighth inning that provided the final 4-1 margin.
Madden left the game after the seventh inning after allowing three hits and one run with five strikeouts and three walks. So while Madden wasn’t able to match the quality of his complete-game shutout of Houston last week, against one of the best hitting teams in the country — South Carolina entered the game batting .311 — it was an another excellent outing from the Texas ace.
The biggest jam Madden had to work through came in the second inning. After entering the game with only six walks allowed all season, Madden gave away free passes to three of the first four hitters in the second inning, often leaving his fastball up in the zone as he dealt with some mechanical difficulties. South Carolina scored its first and only run on a sacrifice fly to right field, ending 17 scoreless innings pitched by the Texas ace, but Madden limited the damage with a fielder’s choice by Cam Williams at third.
In the sixth, Madden got some help from shortstop Trey Faltine, who ranged deep into the hole for the first out, then fielded a ground ball behind second base and made the throw in one motion for the second out.
Madden had trouble getting out of the inning by allowing consecutive singles before inducing a pop fly in foul territory handled by Zubia, but Faltine’s glove ensured that South Carolina never threatened more seriously in the inning.
At the plate, the big swing came from first baseman Zach Zubia in the critical eighth inning.
The speed of left fielder Eric Kennedy played big with a leadoff triple down the right-field line. After center fielder Mike Antico walked and took second base without a throw, Zubia got a 2-0 fastball and laced it just inside the first-base bag for a two-run double with no outs in the inning as Texas took a 3-1 lead.
Faltine then moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and DJ Petrinsky pinch hit for pinch hitter Dalton Porter when South Carolina went to a left-handed pitcher out of the bullpen. Facing a 2-2 count, Petrinsky stayed with a low breaking ball and drove in another run with a line-drive single to center.
Right-hander Aaron Nixon replaced Madden in the eighth inning and continued to perform well. Against a high-level opponent in a charged environment, Nixon didn’t just look ready to meet the moment, he looked capable of commanding it with a good fastball, a sharp breaking ball, and a confident, dogged demeanor on the mound.
Entering his second inning of work, Nixon got some help from his hustling catcher. Zubia wasn’t able to come up with a pick at first as second baseman Mitchell Daly was trying to finish a difficult play in the hole, but Silas Ardoin was there to back up Zubia, throwing out Wes Clarke when the South Carolina player rounded first on the play.
It was the only hit that Nixon allowed in two innings that included three strikeouts and no walks. Nixon has now allowed only a single run on four hits in 6.1 innings of work to start his Texas career as he quickly emerges as one of the team’s best pitchers out of the bullpen.
After the disappointing start to the season with three losses against SEC opponents in Arlington, Friday’s game felt like it took on added importance. It wasn’t surprising that Madden was up to the task, but the clutch hitting and excellent performance from Nixon should buoy this team’s confidence moving forward in this series and then into conference play next weekend.
Texas returns to the Disch on Saturday for a 2:30 p.m. Central first pitch on Longhorn Network with right-hander Tristan Stevens (0-1, 4.96) taking the mound for the Horns against right-hander Brannon Jordan (1-0, 3.46).