The No. 1 seed Texas Longhorns got off to a rough start in the Big 12 Tournament on Wednesday in Oklahoma City, falling to the No. 8 seed West Virginia Mountaineers 5-1 to set up an elimination game at 12:30 p.m. Central on ESPNU.
Texas will face the loser of No. 4 seed Oklahoma State and No. 5 seed Oklahoma.
Facing West Virginia’s No. 1 starter Jackson Wolf for the second time in less than a week, Texas only managed five hits and five walks as Wolf struck out seven and pitched the first complete game for the Mountaineers this season. AT 6’7 and with a low release point, Wolf was able to confound Texas hitters with a fastball that never reached much above 90 miles per hour.
After allowing a two-run home run and three home runs overall in last Thursday’s start against West Virginia, Texas right-hander Ty Madden had a more encouraging first inning on Wednesday, retiring all three batters in order. Matt McCormack, who loves to swing at the first pitch, hit a ball to the warning track in left field, but Eric Kennedy made the play for the Longhorns. Madden threw more off-speed pitches in fastball counts in an attempt to keep the Mountaineer hitters off balance and from jumping on that fastball as they did last week.
In the second inning, however, West Virginia once again caught up with a fastball from Madden on a solo home run by Hudson Byorick that left the field of play quickly, giving the Mountaineers four of the seven home runs allowed by Madden on the season.
Second baseman Mitchell Daly helped Madden out in the third with a diving play to his right on a ground ball to end the inning, but the bottom of the order came through in the fifth with a single, double, and sacrifice fly to push the lead to 2-0. On a 2-2 pitch with two outs, catcher Silas Ardoin couldn’t handle a breaking ball from Madden to score the game’s third run.
Through the first three innings, Texas only managed a single baserunner, first baseman Zach Zubia with a two-out single in the first inning, as Wolf was able to work efficiently. In the fourth, Daly drew a leadoff walk, but was stranded on first base.
The Horns finally got on the board in the sixth when Kennedy slashed a home run to left field.
But after center fielder Mike Antico drew a walk, Daly hit into a double play just as it appeared Texas was finally gaining some momentum for the first time in the game.
The seventh showed more promise as designated hitter Ivan Melendez drew a walk, third baseman Cam Williams beat out a fielder’s choice that was nearly another double play, then advanced when right fielder Douglas Hodo III singled through the left side of the infield.
Then Williams was involved in another high-profile play on the bases. After apparently scoring the game-tying run against West Virginia last Thursday on a wild pitch, the call was overturned without clear video evidence. On Wednesday, Williams was called out at second on a pickoff play, but the video appeared to clearly show his hand on the base before the tag came. Once again, the call went against Texas and Williams was the inning’s second out.
While Williams did look safe, there was no reason for a close play at second. He’s also lost the benefit of the doubt after other baserunning mistakes this season.
Shortstop Trey Faltine singled and Ardoin drew a walk to load the bases. Kennedy couldn’t come through again, however, weakly popping a ball to the third baseman to end the threat.
With Madden leaving the game before escaping the seventh inning, Pierce turned to right-hander Cole Quintanilla and then right-hander Tanner Witt to get to the bottom of the eighth. Witt entered with a runner on third and one out, striking out both batters he faced.
But the bigger question is whether Pierce’s decisions to start Madden, then use Quintanilla and and Witt facing a deficit will have an impact later in the tournament. It certainly wasn’t an effective strategy on Wednesday.
Antico led off the bottom of the eighth with a check-swing infield single, then stole second base. Wolf came through, though, accomplishing a difficult task — striking out Daly, only his 26th of the strikeout, the lowest among the regular starters for the Longhorns. Zubia strike out, too, as did Melendez.
Texas simply couldn’t hit Wolf’s fastball and sometimes didn’t even try, with Zubia and Melendez both punched out on pitches at the edges of the strike zone.
In the ninth, Witt wasn’t as sharp as he was early in his outing, walking the second batter, throwing a wild pitch, and then giving up a run-scoring triple. Another wild pitch scored the fifth run of the game for West Virginia and effectively put the game out of reach. Witt hadn’t allowed a run, earned or otherwise, in six weeks.
With three outs to make up the four-run deficit, Faltine hit into a game-ending double play to cap the disappointing performance for the Longhorns.