The No. 1 Texas Longhorns have a chance to open the 2022 season with a sweep after blowing out the Rice Owls 15-1 on Saturday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field behind four multi-run innings.
Head coach David Pierce’s team scored in just about every way imaginable — via wild pitch, via double, via single, via passed ball, via fielding fielding error, and via balk. Left fielder Eric Kennedy even scored from second on a wild pitch that bounced all the way out past first base in foul territory.
Texas had 10 hits and drew 11 walks, showing consistent patience at the plate.
Take the six-run fifth innings, for example. The Longhorns opened the frame with two strikeouts, then showed an ability to command the strike zone in the batter’s box. First baseman Ivan Melendez drew a full-count walk on seven pitches. Second baseman Mitchell Daly drew a full-count walk on seven pitches. Catcher Silas Ardoin took four straight pitches to reach base. Right fielder Austin Todd drew a full-count walk on six pitches to score Melendez. Then designated hitter Dylan Campbell drew his own full-count walk on seven pitches to score Daly.
That’s four full-count walks among five consecutive hitters who saw 31 pitches and drove in two two-out runs by taking free passes. For the game, the Horns saw 229 pitches and only threw 119.
When Rice started to throw more hittable pitches in the strike zone, shortstop Trey Faltine doubled to the wall in center field to score two runs and third baseman Murphy Stehly doubled to left center to score two more runs.
Team depth played a big role on Saturday, as Faltine was 3-for-5 with two doubles and four RBI, while Stehly earned the start over Kansas transfer Skyler Messinger and continued his success from 2021, going 2-for-4 with three RBI.
The blowout win allowed the Longhorns to get some playing time for new players, too — Texas A&M transfer catcher Kimble Schuessler drew a walk in his plate appearance, Vanderbilt transfer infielder Jack O’Dowd received two at bats, freshman Gavin Kash got into the game, unhappily taking a pitch off his ribs, and freshman Ace Whitehead made an appearance as a pinch runner.
On the mound, a typically efficient performance from right-hander Tristan Stevens afforded the bullpen plenty of work, as well. Stevens rolled through six scoreless innings, just as Pete Hansen did on Friday, scattering four hits and two walks while striking out three. Nine of the outs recorded by Stevens came via ground balls.
In relief of Stevens, left-hander Lucas Gordon gave up a walk, but otherwise escaped unscathed in his inning of work and right-hander Andre Duplantier’s curveball looked sharp in his return from elbow surgery during a perfect inning.
Heralded right-hander Joshua Stewart made his own debut and wasn’t quite as successful, only managing to retire one of the three batters he faced, allowing a single, double, and a sacrifice fly. But that’s the value of early-season blowouts, right? They allow opportunities for young pitchers especially to make low-leverage appearances and get comfortable on the mound at the college level.
The worst thing that happened with the run allowed by Stewart is that it ended a streak of 17 scoreless innings thrown against Rice to start the series.
Left-hander Cameron Dayton, a Midland College transfer who can also play first base, came on for Stewart and stuck out both batters he faced.
Texas sends right-hander Tanner Witt to the mound on Sunday at 1 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network to face left-hander Thomas Burbank, who did not make an appearance for the Longhorns in 2019 prior to a successful 2021 season at San Jacinto College.