The No. 2 national seed Texas Longhorns opened play in the Austin Regional by ruthlessly dispatching the overmatched Southern Jaguars in an 11-0 victory at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday.
Head coach David Pierce’s decision to start typical No. 2 starter Tristan Stevens in the first game paid off, as Stevens cruised through a Southern lineup that typically struggles at the plate in hitting .251 this season despite the unlikely run to the SWAC Tournament title. Stevens was his usual efficient self throughout, needing only 82 pitches to get through seven innings. Southern managed four hits, but struck out six times without drawing a walk from Stevens, who retired 10 of the 24 batters he faced on groundouts.
How efficient was Stevens? He only faced a two-ball count twice in seven innings.
With Texas leading 9-0 when Stevens departed the game, Pierce was able to utilize the back end of his bullpen to close it out, with right-hander Parmer Wenzel and right-hander Jared Southard working for an inning each. Both pitched well, with the only blemish a walk by Southard in the ninth — neither gave up a hit and Southard struck out two.
After Stevens set the Jaguars down in order to start the game, the offense showed the multiple ways it can score.
Center fielder Mike Antico walked to lead off the game, then stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by the Southern catcher. Second baseman Mitchell Daly couldn’t bring Antico home, striking out looking, but first baseman Zach Zubia came through with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Then designated hitter Ivan Melendez got back on track after he struggled in the Big 12 Tournament with one hit and nine strikeouts in 10 at bats, earning him a day off in the final game. A fastball intended for the outside corner caught too much of the plate and Melendez didn’t miss, hitting the ball out onto the road behind the left-field fence.
It was only the second home run for Melendez in the last month — he’ll be key if Texas is going to make a deep run in the postseason, so two hits in five at bats with the home run and without a strikeout was a positive development for the Longhorns on Friday.
In the second inning, Texas increased the separation with four runs. Two walks and a hit by pitch started a one-out rally and Daly came through with a bases-clearing double to right center. Zubia followed with an opposite-field double of his own.
Texas added four more runs in the seventh and the eighth with two runs each inning.
In the seventh, catcher Silas Ardoin drove in right fielder Douglas Hodo III and shortstop Trey Faltine with a double to right center.
The following inning, third baseman Cam Williams hit his 10th home run of the season, a two-run blast to left field from the right side to end the scoring.
The two home runs were both pulled, but the overall approach of staying back on the ball was an improvement from the issues Texas faced in the Big 12 Tournament — the Horns only struck out five times, though the competition certainly played a role.
“When you look back at the tournament, then looking at film and then talking to coaches, I just feel like the guys got away from who they are,” Pierce said in Oklahoma City. “They got a little bit big in their swings. It’s a good place to drive the ball out of the ballpark, so you get a little pull happy. A little tension with two strikes creates bad swings or chasing pitches, and that’s something our young players need to understand and learn from.”
Pierce wanted Texas to commit to trying to hit line drives in the middle of the field — hit the ball where it’s pitched with each hitter’s A swing.
“I think pitch selection, seeing the ball deep, and staying in the middle of the field will be our reference all week,” Pierce said.
So far so good, as Texas will face Arizona State at 6 p.m. Central on Saturday, with the network to be determined.