Winning in one of the nation’s best conferences on Friday night often involves a high level of opportunism early and execution late.
At Baylor Ballpark in Waco, the No. 10 Texas Longhorns effectively used that formula to take an early lead and preserve it late in a 5-3 win over the Baylor Bears to open conference play and secure the program’s seventh consecutive win.
In the second inning, the opportunism meant taking advantage of control issues suffered by Baylor left-hander Tyler Thomas, who didn’t enter the game with a high number of walks, but struggled to command his fastball and his curveball early.
An error to open the inning hurt, too, as Texas catcher Silas Ardoin reached on a ball hit to the shortstop and then advanced to second on the play. Shortstop Trey Faltine walked on a full count and second baseman Mitchell Daly came through with the inning’s big swing — a double down the left-field line to score two runs. Three consecutive walks and a hit by pitch scored the final two runs in the inning.
With a 4-1 lead entering the home half of the second inning, Texas ace Ty Madden gave up a run in the third, stranding two bases runners, and didn’t have his most efficient performance overall. But that’s judging Madden by the highest of standards — the right hander ultimately battled through 120 pitches to last through 6.1 innings having allowed two earned runs on four hits with nine strikeouts. Two of those hits came from the first two batters as Baylor scored a run in the first on a double and a triple to start home half of the first inning.
It’s a sign of how well Madden has pitched at times this season that the early hits and the command problems with his fastball and his slider elevating his pitch count and shortening his outing register as something of a mild disappointment. Madden is just that good, only looking hittable or even reachable in rare moments.
After an inning from Tanner Witt and a brief appearance by Parmer Wenzel, Aaron Nixon made the key pitches down the stretch. Entering the game after a rare error by Faltine and a walk by Wenzel on a full count, Nixon induced a groundout to first base with the bases loaded to end the eighth inning. In the ninth, the freshman right-hander had his slider working at a high level, striking out two batters to end the game, including the final hitter.
Nixon continues to pitch like an impact arm out of the bullpen in key situations even though he’s only made six appearances in burnt orange and white and earned his first career save on Friday.
The Texas batting average stood at .147 thanks to only five hits in 34 at bats with 2-of-15 hitting with runners in scoring position, but that’s often a reality of Friday baseball, especially after the Longhorns failed to drive Thomas from the game quickly after he struggled in the second inning. It’s all about taking advantage of whatever stretches of the game feature questionable pitching, even if that only includes one hit and four runs in an inning.
So there’s certainly room for improvement, and for more defined roles in the bullpen, but with seven straight wins and 10-of-11 victories overall, it’s clear that the Longhorns are trending in the right direction, especially with Witt and Nixon continuing to emerge as the key stoppers in the bullpen.
Texas returns to the field in Waco at 3 p.m Central on ESPN+ to try to win the series.