The No. 19 Texas Longhorns bounced back from Saturday’s walk-off home run by the Houston Cougars to take the series with a comfortable 8-2 Sunday victory keyed by consistent pitching and opportunistic efforts at the plate.
Through the first two games, Houston largely pitched well, especially Friday’s starter and the Saturday relievers out of the bullpen — Saturday starter Ben Spears was certainly hittable — but the Cougars hadn’t really struggled until Sunday.
Starter Cameron Prayer, a left-hander who entered the game with a respectable 3.24 ERA, retired two of the first three batters. After walking Texas left fielder Eric Kennedy in between recording the first and second outs, Prayer issued walks to first baseman Zach Zubia, catcher Silas Ardoin, and shortstop Trey Faltine. Then the defense let Prayer down, as designated hitter Ivan Melendez drove in two unearned runs thanks to an error by the second baseman. Third baseman Cam Williams knocked in the inning’s fourth run with a single, the first hit for the Longhorns.
Texas added three more runs in the fourth with only a single hit. Melendez was hit by a pitch to start the inning and Williams walked before both advanced on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Mitchell Daly. A single by right fielder Austin Todd scored Melendez and Williams scored after walks drawn by Kennedy and Antico. Zubia drove in the final run with a sacrifice fly to center field.
Through the seventh inning, the Longhorns had only managed five infield hits, but drawing 10, executing in sacrifice situations, and the timeliness of two of those infield hits produced the 7-2 margin. A single to center for Todd with one out in the eighth marked the first Texas hit to leave the infield before Faltine added an insurance run in the ninth by hitting a hanging curveball just over the fence in left field.
Five different players had an RBI for Texas on Sunday while Todd and Faltine both had two hits. Zubia once again struggled to produce with runners on base, however, stranding four, although he remains the only regular starter hitting over .300 besides outfielder Douglas Hodo III, who received the day off in favor of Melendez.
In the second inning, a one-out double for Houston and a passed ball set up a sacrifice fly to center field. The Cougars added a second run in the third in a similar way — a double, a wild pitch, and an RBI groundout.
Through the first five innings, right-hander Kolby Kubichek continued to show signs of developing into a viable Sunday starter with left-hander Pete Hansen still not in the weekend rotation. Against Houston, Kulbichek was arguably better than merely viable, striking out seven over his first five innings and only allowing a single walk. Quickly gaining the confidence of pitching with a four-run lead after the first inning always helps, too.
Kubichek did get into some trouble in the sixth inning after recording two quick outs, allowing a single and then hitting the next batter before walking the bases loaded. But he battled back to strike out the ninth Houston hitter of the game and end the inning without allowing any runs.
Right-hander Jared Southard came on in relief and struck out the first batter he faced with a 93 mph fastball. Southard got ahead of the next hitter with some breaking balls up in the zone — exactly how Aaron Nixon gave up the walk-off home run on Saturday — but Southard hit the left-hander when he tried to bury that pitch low and in. A high fastball caught the Houston batter looking for the second out before Southard’s command failed him again with a full-count walk. Southard got out of the inning thanks to a sensational play from Williams at third making a diving stop and narrowing forcing out the runner at second base.
Three flyouts forced by right-hander Cole Quintanilla took the Horns through the eighth. Quintanilla walked the first batter in the ninth, but Williams ranged left on a chopper to start a double play.
Southard and Quintanilla pitched three innings of relief without allowing a hit and the Cougars only managed five on the game compared to 12 strikeouts.
Texas returns to UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday for a midweek game against Sam Houston State. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.