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Texas salvages series finale against Texas Tech

Some pitching struggles by the Longhorns and strong defense by the Red Raiders helped produce the first three-game weekend series loss for David Pierce’s program since the end of the 2019 season.

Pete Hansen
Texas baseball

Persistent rain in the Austin area impacted the first two games of the key weekend series against the No. 11 Texas Tech Red Raiders as the No. 3 Texas Longhorns fell in the first two games before salvaging the Sunday’s finale in a needed 11-3 win at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Texas dropped to No. 6 nationally in the latest edition of the Division 1 Baseball Rankings following the series loss.

The issues started quickly on Friday as lightning in the area delayed the pushed-up afternoon start and Texas ace Ty Madden had his worst start of the season while dealing with a blister on his throwing hand. Despite taking a 2-1 lead into the third inning, Madden couldn’t hold it, allowing two runs in the fourth and three runs in the fifth inning, exiting after that frame with six runs allowed (five earned) on five hits, three walks, and seven strikeouts.

In a common theme throughout the weekend, strong defense by the Red Raiders took away scoring opportunities for the Longhorns as head coach David Pierce’s team struggled to get hits with runners in scoring position until breaking through on Sunday.

To end the second inning of Friday’s game, Texas Tech center fielder Dillon Carter saved a run with a diving catch on a short fly from Texas left fielder Eric Kennedy.

To end the third, Red Raiders right fielder Easton Murrell made his own diving catch, this time on a line drive from fellow right fielder Douglas Hodo III that saved one run and would have cost another if he’d missed it.

With runners on first and third in the fifth, Hodo struck out on a 2-2 high fastball to end another threat by the Longhorns.

Texas lost in the opener 6-3, conceding a game in the Big 12 standings to TCU, then another with the defeat clinched by Texas Tech on Sunday.

During Saturday’s game, also pushed up for weather-related reasons, Texas right-hander Tristan Stevens once again struggled in the sixth inning after entering the inning with a 0-0 tie. After striking out the first batter, Stevens hit the second, gave up a double, a walk, and another hit by pitch, then allowed a two-run double, a run-scoring wild pitch, and run-scoring single to put the Longhorns in a 5-0 hole.

Designated hitter Ivan Melendez got Texas on the scoreboard with a home run in the seventh, but the Horns truly threatened in the eighth as heavy run and command issues impacted the Red Raiders staff. A single by center fielder Mike Antico, a double by second baseman Mitchell Daly, and a walk by first baseman Zach Zubia loaded the bases with one out and drove the Texas Tech starter from the game.

Reliever Levi Wells couldn’t find the strike zone, walking Melendez on four pitches and catcher DJ Petrinsky on five pitches to score two more runs and put the tying run on second base. Wells bounced back by striking out Hodo swinging on a full count before nature intervened — with Silas Ardoin preparing to pinch hit for third baseman Cam Williams, the game went into a rain delay until Sunday afternoon.

The delay allowed Texas Tech to use reliever Ryan Sublette on Sunday after he threw 40 pitches over 2.2 innings in Friday’s win for the Red Raiders. Sublette came through, striking out Ardoin on three pitches, including a called third strike that looked off the plate outside.

The Longhorns fell 5-3 in the delayed game.

When Texas returned to the field, the series finale got off to a poor start, too, as starter Kolby Kubichek struggled for a second straight week, allowing two singles to start the game and then walking the next two hitters. Kubichek was pulled from the game after only 18 pitches, having failed to retire of any of the four hitters he faced.

So former midweek starter Pete Hansen entered the game with the bases loaded and no outs after frantically warming up in the bullpen. Fortunately for the Longhorns, Hansen had a good feel for his slider and was able to escape the jam without allowing any more runs thanks to a rare 5-2-3 double play and a flyout to center field.

Hansen ended up throwing 7.2 innings, allowing one run on seven hits with a career-high seven strikeouts and two walks. In line with other outings this season, Hansen was only 86 to 89 miles per hour with his fastball, but was able to locate it to both sides of the plate, get swings and misses with his slider, and mix in his changeup enough to keep Texas Tech hitters off balance.

With Kubichek struggling, Hansen will move into Sunday role as the starter as the coaching staff works to help Kubichek regain his confidence. Whether that means pitching during Tuesday’s game against Texas State or taking more time to work through his control issues, Pierce wasn’t sure on Sunday.

After failing to record a hit with runners in scoring position over the first two games of the series, the bats finally came alive in the second inning when the Texas Tech defense finally made a mistake. On fly ball from Melendez, the right fielder lost it in the sun and Melendez scored on a poor throw into the infield. Shortstop Trey Faltine added two more runs with a double to deep right-center field when Carter couldn’t come up with a difficult catch and Antico finished the four-run inning with a sacrifice fly.

In the seventh inning, Hodo cleared the bases with a grand slam just over the left-field wall to create some extra separation for the Longhorns in the 11-3 win.

Left-hander Lucas Gordon will start for Texas on Tuesday. First pitch against the Bobcats is at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.