In a pitching matchup pitting two projected first-round draft picks, Friday’s game between the No. 4 Texas Longhorns and the Kansas State Wildcats featured more runs than expected as the Longhorns scored eight runs in the eighth inning after the bullpen blew a 5-2 lead for a 13-6 victory at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Against Kansas State left-hander Jordan Wicks, Texas was able to score five runs in the first six innings with consistently competitive at bats.
In the first, second baseman Mitchell Daly singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, then scored when first baseman Zach Zubia barreled a two-strike changeup up the middle.
The run scored in the second inning profoundly changed the outlook for the series. Following a double by third baseman Cam Williams, center fielder Mike Antico hit a line drive into center field that went to the wall when the Kansas State player failed to come up with a diving catch. At third base, head coach David Pierce made an inexplicably poor decision sending Antico and he was thrown out by a wide margin. When Antico made contact with the catcher, it started an altercation that led to the ejections of Williams, shortstop Trey Faltine, who was on deck, and Daly, who was in the dugout. Three Kansas State players were also ejected. All six will miss Saturday’s game.
In the fourth inning, the first two Texas batters struck out, but the Horns managed another two-out rally. On at shortstop for Faltine, Murphy Stehly doubled down the left-field line on a two-strike pitch, designated hitter Ivan Melendez took a walk after getting down 1-2, and right fielder Douglas Hodo III singled to left field on a two-strike pitch to score Stehly for a 3-1 lead.
Dylan Campbell singled to lead off the fifth, stole second, advanced to third on a groundout, then scored on an error. In the sixth, Melendez continued his hot streak at the plate, blasting a changeup over the left-field wall for his fourth consecutive game with a home run.
In the matchup of ace pitchers, Texas right-hander Ty Madden had the better performance, but he was clearly battling himself early in the game once again as three singles in the first inning by Kansas State gave the Wildcats a quick 1-0 lead.
Over the next 4.2 innings, though, Madden only allowed one hit and two walks while striking out two, a much lower strikeout rate than normal. After Madden elevated his pitch count early in the game, though, pitching to contact helped prolong his outing, which also featured a solo home run in the fifth inning for his second allowed run and fifth hit.
The tough start to the game ultimately limited Madden to 6.0 innings, when he was replaced by right-hander Tanner Witt, who pitched poorly.
The first Kansas State batter drew a walk after getting down 0-2 and the next hit a curveball into center field for a single, quickly putting Witt into a jam. As the Wildcats tried to advance both runners with a bunt, the ball was popped up and Witt caught it bare handed. Unfortunately for Witt, the runners got to second and third anyway on a subsequent wild pitch. Pierce then pulled Witt in favor of right-hander Cole Quintanilla in a 3-1 count after Witt was clearly overthrowing the ball.
Quintanilla’s second pitch was a ball to load the bases and the next batter drew a full-count walk to cut the Texas lead to 5-3. A hard-hit ball into right field scored another run on a sacrifice fly to get Kansas State within one run, but Quintanilla was able to get out of the inning, striking out the best Wildcats hitter looking on a knee-buckling curveball to strand two runners and narrowly maintain the lead.
Texas threatened in the seventh inning, with Zubia reaching on a walk and moving to second on a balk. A diving play on a sharply-hit ball by Stehly down the third-base line saved a run and the Kansas State closer was able to get Melendez swinging on a breaking ball after a hard-fought at bat that featured seven pitches.
Quintanilla struggled again in the eighth, allowing a double to start off the inning, then walking another batter. With runners on second and third and two outs, Quintanilla elevated a fastball hit deep into right field that kept carrying. Hodo gave a strong effort on the play, but couldn’t come up with the catch as he crashed into the wall. The two-run triple gave Kansas State the lead.
Right-hander Aaron Nixon, the Longhorns closer, came on to replace Quintanilla and got the inning’s final out as the Wildcats tried to score the runner from third with a bunt single.
Hodo led off the bottom of the eighth by lashing a double to right field, narrowly making it to second ahead of a strong throw. Antico came through with Kansas State expecting a bunt as Antico smashed a fastball back up the middle to score Hodo and tie the game.
On a hit-and-run attempt, Antico stole second base, his 16th steal of the season and second of the game. A tough at bat from left fielder Eric Kennedy resulted in a ground ball to shortstop that Kennedy turned into an infield single with his speed. Patient approaches commanding the strike zone produced full-count walks for Ford and Zubia, with the Texas first baseman celebrating the fourth ball that gave the Longhorns the lead again as he trotted down to first base.
Catcher Silas Ardoin extended the lead with another two-strike hit, driving a single into right field to score two more runs, then Stehly drove home a fifth run with a sacrifice fly that would have been a double had the Kansas State left fielder not made a diving catch.
Following two more walks, Antico cleared the bases with a double to stretch the lead to 13-6 heading into the ninth inning with the eight runs scored marking the most prolific frame of the year for the Longhorns thanks to four walks and five hits.
The hope for Texas is that the 4-for-5 performance by Antico with two doubles, a triple, and five RBI will help get the St. John’s graduate transfer going after struggling for the entire season.
Right-hander Tristan Stevens (4-1, 3.27) takes the mound for Texas against Kansas State right-hander Carson Seymour (2-2, 3.58) on Saturday with a first pitch at 2:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network. With three starting infielders out, the question is whether the defense will hold up behind Stevens, whose sinker frequently induces ground balls.