On a cold night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field with the temperate in the 30s and the wind blowing in, the No. 1 Texas Longhorns pulled out a gritty 1-0 win over the Alabama Crimson Tide on Friday that felt like a high-stakes conference game in everything but the temperature.
Texas only managed five hits with two walks on the day, but Alabama left 12 runners on base and went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, consistently failing to pick up the key hit to change the game.
In a change from the first five games, 16 of the 22 Texas batters who faced Alabama starter Garrett McMillan saw four pitches or less with three hits and two walks as the Longhorns generally failed to threaten the Crimson Tide starter and make him throw high-pressure pitches. The weather conditions certainly helped, keeping potential home runs from third baseman Skyler Messinger and first baseman Ivan Melendez in the ballpark. His defense helped, too, with center fielder Andrew Pinckney chasing down a slicing drive from Austin Todd in deep right-center in the second inning.
When Messinger singled in the seventh with one out and shortstop Trey Faltine was hit by a pitch, Texas had only its second at bat with a runner in scoring position. When the control of Alabama reliever Dylan Ray faltered with a passed ball and a wild pitch, Messinger scored the ballgame’s first and only run. With a runner on third, Ray was able to strike out designated hitter Murphy Stehly with a high curveball and center fielder Douglas Hodo III with a fastball to end the threat by the Longhorns.
A double into the right-field corner with one out put Melendez on second in the eighth, but second baseman Mitchell Daly grounded out to third against his childhood friend and catcher Silas Ardoin hit a hard line drive caught by the Alabama left fielder.
For Texas, left-hander Pete Hansen turned in a quality start, scattering four hits over five innings with one walk and eight strikeouts. In the first two innings, Hansen struck out five batters, pitching inside and outside with his fastball and mixing in quality breaking pitches — his typical approach.
The biggest jam he faced was in the fifth inning when he gave up two one-out singles up the middle, got a strikeout, but walked the bases loaded on a full count before inducing a flyout to right field. Like McMillan, Hansen also benefited from the wind holding up some hard-hit balls.
In relief, right-hander Travis Sthele had another strong appearance, giving up a hit and allowing a walk in two innings, once again mostly attacking hitters with his high-spin fastball in the low 90s.
Fellow right-hander Jared Southard came on in the eighth, mostly throwing sliders while retiring the first batter and then walking the second while having some issues with the arm-side run of his fastball, ultimately resulting in the third batter singling to left field, prompting a ball to the bullpen for right-handed closer Aaron Nixon.
Issues locating the fastball put Nixon behind in the count against the first hitter, but he was able to battle back with his slider, recording the inning’s second out on a weak popup to second base. Like Southard, Nixon’s fastball was running to his arm side, resulting in a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Fortunately, Nixon’s slider proved more reliable as three straight strikes with the pitch punched out pinch hitter Will Hodo, the cousin of the Texas center fielder, to end the inning.
Nixon continued to fall behind with his fastball in the ninth, needing his slider to retire the first batter on a ball hit into right center and then allowing a double on his breaking ball to put another runner in scoring position. The runner advanced to third on a passed ball when Nixon couldn’t command yet another fastball, but the Texas closer struck out the next batter looking and Messinger ended the game with a catch in foul territory near the stands.
Right-hander Tristan Stevens takes the mound for Texas on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.