“Well, Ivan didn’t hit a home run. That sucks, right?”
Head coach David Pierce didn’t waste any time in his post-game press conference bringing up the biggest story of the night, as the streak of six consecutive games with a home run ended for designated hitter Ivan Melendez as the No. 3 Texas Longhorns did just enough to edge the Nevada Wolf Pack in a 4-3 victory at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday evening.
The incredible stretch by Melendez, which set a school record and was closing in on the national record of eight consecutive games, had captured the attention of the burnt orange faithful and the larger college baseball community as the Longhorns rose to No. 3 in the rankings thanks to an eight-game winning streak that reached nine on Tuesday.
“It was a part of our team meeting today that not just Ivan, but now we’ve gotten a lot of attention, not only from the baseball world, but even our city has talked about us for the last 24 hours and just removing those distractions are tough,” Pierce said.
“Our kids get a lot of Twitter feeds and the media is great, but at the same time it’s there — the rankings, all that stuff — so we just tried to just go out and not worry about that. This is kind of a next step, we have a target on our back and that’s good, I mean that’s what we want, we want expectations, we want people to play their A game and prepare for us because that means they’re paying attention.”
Even though the streak ended, Melendez didn’t seem fazed by the attention and wasn’t pressing at the plate to try to drive the ball out of the ballpark.
In his first at bat, he was hit by the first pitch he saw, putting runners on first and second with no outs after catcher Silas Ardoin drew the first of three walks on the night. Nevada was able to get the two hitters out, but left fielder Eric Kennedy was able to single through the right side to score Ardoin.
The two RBI for Melendez came in the third inning. After first baseman Zach Zubia and Ardoin both drew walks with two outs, Melendez skied the first pitch that he saw into short right field and it fell for a double, scoring Zubia and Ardoin, who was initially ruled out before the call was overturned by replay. It wasn’t a well-hit ball, but because the Wolfpack outfield was playing so deep respecting the power of Melendez, the right fielder couldn’t get there in time.
In the fifth, Melendez was involved in the final run scored by the Longhorns. Zubia was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, Ardoin and Melendez followed with singles to load the bases, and third baseman Cam Williams hit into a fielder’s choice to score Zubia. Texas wasn’t able to extend the lead, however, when right fielder Douglas Hodo III struck out and Kennedy grounded out to end the inning.
Meanwhile, Nevada was making things difficult on Texas.
In the fourth inning, the Wolfpack drove Longhorns right-hander Justin Eckhardt from the game after 3.1 innings after a walk, a wild pitch, and a single. Right-hander Palmer Wenzel came on in relief and limited the damage to a sacrifice fly, but got into trouble in his second inning of work, allowing a walk, a double, and a single that scored one run. Fortunately for Wenzel, his defense helped him out with the big play of the inning as Zubia fielded a ball at first base and threw out the runner at home to save a run.
Following a difficult outing over the weekend, right-hander Tanner Witt came on for Wenzel with one out and a runner on second and got out of the inning with a flyout and a strikeout. Witt put down Nevada 1-2-3 in the sixth inning, then had to battle through a 12-pitch at bat in the seventh that featured the batter fouling off numerous fastballs from Witt before he went to his curveball and caught the hitter looking on the 3-2 count. Another strikeout ended the inning after Witt allowed a double.
“I think more than anything Tanner’s a great athlete and we’ve talked about utilizing that athleticism and freeing up his arm because, we don’t want him to become a robotical pitcher. We want him to be athletic and I think that’s what we noticed more than anything,” Pierce said.
The long at bat helped limit Witt’s appearance to 51 pitches over 2.2 innings with two hits and one run allowed along with five strikeouts when the freshman gave up a hit to lead off the eighth inning.
The staff did notice that Witt was hitting a wall as he got up around 45 to 50 pitches, but Pierce took a chance on bringing him out for another inning. The Texas head coach admitted that the strategy backfired slightly, as right-hander Cole Quintanilla came on and allowed the runner to score on a triple, but stranded the runner at third by inducing two groundouts.
Closer Aaron Nixon came on in the ninth to earn his third save of the season.
It certainly wasn’t a pretty performance, as Texas finished with only six hits and suffered some poor luck on hard-hit balls in play that found Nevada defenders.
“I’ll tell you what, it was one of those games where nothing had much rhythm to it other than we figured out how to win the game,” Pierce said. “A couple of big plays — Silas on his slide was huge to get that run and then Zach made a nice play to not panic throw the runner around at home — but there just wasn’t a whole lot of flow to our offense and I think that’s a credit to Nevada, who came in there and played really well.”
If the Texas hitters got frustrated at the plate, Pierce didn’t notice, as players moved on to the next pitch or to the next half inning with their focus on playing well defensively. And that’s the mark of a good team — finding a way to win on a night when the Longhorns only hit .222 and weren’t able to steamroll the opponent as they had over the previous seven games.
The bats will have a chance to bounce back on Wednesday as left-hander Pete Hansen takes the mound to close out the two-game series at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.