The No. 3 Texas Longhorns (30-8, 12-3) remain tied with the No. 8 TCU Horned Frogs atop the Big 12 standings after a road trip to Stillwater that saw the Longhorns beat the No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys in Saturday’s doubleheader before falling on Sunday.
After Friday’s game was postponed due to storms in the Stillwater area, right-handed ace Ty Madden took the mound for the first game on Saturday and struck out 12 batters while scattering six hits and allowing two earned runs in six innings of work.
As the Longhorns have done so often this year, early runs scored allowed Madden to pitch with confidence and a lead. Center fielder Mike Antico led the game off with a walk, moved to third on a double by second baseman Mitchell Daly, then scored on a wild pitch. After advancing to third on the wild pitch, a groundout by first baseman Zach Zubia plated Daly.
Zubia came through again in the third inning, staying back on a breaking ball that stayed up in the zone and driving it into the right-field bleachers for a two-run home run. It was Zubia’s sixth home run of the season.
As Madden’s pitch count creep well up over 100, Madden struggled to get through the sixth inning. He struck out the first and third batters of the inning, but gave up a triple and then two two-out doubles, a walk, and had the third run of the inning score on an error by Daly.
With Madden able to maintain the lead, he earned his sixth win of the season and the bullpen did the rest as Cole Quintanilla, Lucas Gordon, and Aaron Nixon finished the game. Nixon earned his fourth save of the season with a perfect ninth.
In the second game of the doubleheader, right-hander Tristan Stevens gave up a run in the second inning after allowing three straight singles, but otherwise pitched at a high level until he gave up three walks in the sixth. Stevens was able to work out of the jam after his streak of 106 batters faced without a walk allowed came to end — to that point he hadn’t walked a single batter since his March 27 start against Oklahoma. For a fourth straight game, Stevens was able to pitch seven innings, striking out seven and allowing two earned runs on five hits.
Texas took the lead for good in the fourth inning when Zubia walked and right fielder Douglas Hodo III brought him home with a two-run home run. Antico added another home run in the fifth inning.
In the sixth, Zubia once again led off with a walk. This time it was designated hitter Ivan Melendez, who had slammed his bat in frustration after flying out in his previous plate appearance, who brought Zubia home by smashing a 2-0 pitch into the scoreboard in left field at O’brate Stadium.
During Sunday’s game, the announcers speculated that the damaged panels on the scoreboard were a result of the home run by Melendez, his first since April 11.
Right-hander Tanner Witt pitched the final two innings for the Horns, striking out four batters in another positive appearance for the athletic freshman.
Sunday’s game went sideways quickly and Texas was never able to get on track offensively as the winning streak came to an end. Right-hander Kolby Kubichek walked the first batter he faced, gave up a home run following a sacrifice bunt, then allowed a third run in the inning following a double and a single. After walking the first batter of the second inning, Kubichek was pulled from the game in favor of left-hander Pete Hansen, who allowed the second home run of the game to bury the Longhorns in an early 4-0 hole.
Facing hard-throwing former Oklahoma State closer Brett Standlee, Texas struggled at the plate, striking out 10 times as Standlee battled through six innings and 117 pitches. The Longhorns ultimately struck out 14 times on Sunday and only managed five hits.
There were plenty of opportunities, however, as Texas loaded the bases with no outs in the third and sixth innings, but only came up with a sacrifice fly in each inning as Standlee was able to limit the damage.
The Longhorns ultimately fell 7-3 after using six pitchers.
Left fielder Eric Kennedy is scuffling right now, giving way in the fifth inning of Sunday’s game in favor of Dylan Campbell. Kennedy is heavily reliant on bunts and hitting the ball on the ground in favorable spots to take advantage of his speed — of his 43 hits on the season, 21 are infield singles, including 11 bunt singles. He also has four sacrifice bunts.
In the last five games, however, Kennedy is 0-for-18 and may need Tuesday’s game off to give him a chance to regroup and work out whatever issues are impacting his swing as his batting average has dropped 35 points since the second game of the Abilene Christian series.
Unfortunately, Texas is thin in the outfield without Austin Todd and Campbell is only hitting .205 this season while the option from the left side, Dalton Porter, only has 17 at bats.
Catcher Silas Ardoin needs to get back on track as well after going 1-for-12 (.083) over those same four games and sitting the final two games of the Oklahoma State series after striking out three times in the first game of the doubleheader. The strikeouts were especially unusual for Ardoin — he only has 27 on the season, so seven in his last 12 at bats is a huge increase in his strikeout rate of 19.4 percent over his first 103 at bats this season.
Veteran DJ Petrinsky hasn’t fared much better at the plate — he’s 2-for-13 (.154) in four weekend games against Abilene Christian and Oklahoma State, but the hope is that the time off will help Ardoin get his legs back and find his swing again since Ardoin has appeared in nearly three times as many games than he did in 2020. Petrinsky is only hitting .207 since undergoing shoulder surgery during the 2019 season.
Texas played the weekend series without third baseman Cam Williams, who injured his ankle during the Sunday game against Abilene Christian and didn’t play in the four games since. Replacement Murphy Stehly mostly played well defensively other than an error during Saturday’s doubleheader, but struggled at the plate, going 2-for-15 (.200) over the last four games. It’s not clear when Williams will be available to return.
Tuesday’s game against Incarnate Word (14-18) at 6:30 p.m. Central should provide an opportunity for some Texas players to get on track at the plate or take some time off, but after the pandemic-shortened season last year and the lack of summer baseball, there have been concerns for weeks about players hitting a wall this year, especially younger players. With two key conference series looming against Texas Tech and TCU, Pierce’s ability to successfully manage his players over the next two weeks will be crucial as Texas hunts for a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.