The No. 1 Texas Longhorns opened the 2022 season with a convincing 7-0 win over the Rice Owls on Friday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field behind a strong performance from left-hander Pete Hansen and a 3-for-4 performance from catcher Silas Ardoin, who finished a triple short of the cycle and had three RBI.
Texas struck quickly after a 1-2-3 inning from starter Pete Hansen. Rice right fielder Antonio Cruz saved a potential triple with a diving catch in right-center on a line drive from Texas center fielder Douglas Hodo III, but left fielder Eric Kennedy followed Hodo by finding that gap and hitting the ball to the wall for a triple. Designated hitter Ivan Melendez came through with an RBI groundout to third to score the first run of the season for the Longhorns.
Longhorns head coach David Pierce predicted an improved offensive season for Ardoin and the Louisiana native came through in the second inning, launching a no-doubt shot to left field for his second career home run.
Ardoin started a three-run fourth inning that drove Rice starter Cooper Chandler from the game in a much more innocuous fashion — on a full-count check swing, Chandler wasn’t able to come up with a sliding catch on the popup in front of the plate. Then right fielder Austin Todd hit a ball off Chandler’s foot for a single and scored on a throwing error by the Rice third baseman on a bunt by Texas third baseman Skyler Messinger. A wild pitch scored Todd from third and a sacrifice fly by designated hitter Dylan Campbell to score Messinger completed the big inning for the Longhorns.
In the fifth, after Melendez and Daly both drew one-out walks, Ardoin dropped the barrel on an inside pitch once again for a double into the left-field corner with the runners in motion, clearing the bases for a 7-0 lead.
The first left-hander to start a season opener for Texas since Austin Wood in 2008, Hansen was in top form during his 6.0 innings of work, consistently pounding the strike zone with multiple pitches, even though his velocity was still in the high 80s rather than regularly touching 90 as he did as a freshman. Hansen threw 78 pitches, allowing three hits with eight strikeouts and one walk to earn the win.
In the top of the second, Hansen walked the leadoff hitter and then allowed a single, but quickly induced a 6-4-3 double play and retired the side with a strikeout looking. Otherwise, he wasn’t threatened.
Right-hander Travis Sthele entered the game for the Horns in the seventh inning, flashing a compact delivery with a powerful lower body and a fastball reaching into the low 90s with good downward tilt or manipulated for some arm-side run in on right-handed hitters. With one strikeout, Sthele retired the first three batters he faced using only fastballs.
It wasn’t until the third batter of the eighth inning when Sthele finally used his changeup, getting a weak popout to shortstop for the second out. Ardoin picked up the final out himself — with Melendez playing behind the runner at first, the Rice player took the bait and was thrown out at second on a perfect delivery from the Texas catcher.
In the ninth, Sthele’s command wavered, allowing a 2-0 double inside the third-base line. He fell behind 3-0 on the next hitter, battled back to a full count, then walked the batter anyway, ending his outing in favor of right-hander Jared Southard.
The Leander Rouse product used his strong slider to strike out the first two batters he faced before a liner to left field ended the Opening Day win for the Longhorns.
Right-hander Tristan Stevens (11-3, 3.31) takes the mound for Texas at 2:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network on Saturday, facing Rice left-hander Brandon Deskins (3-4, 3.88).