In a Huntsville homecoming of sorts for David Pierce, who coached the Sam Houston State Bearkats from 2012 to 2014, the No. 1 Texas Longhorns handily dispatched Pierce’s former program with a decisive 10-1 victory on Tuesday evening to remain undefeated.
Right-hander Andre Duplantier continued his comeback from elbow surgery with a second straight quality start as Pierce worked to extend him — the sophomore only needed 78 pitches to get through six strong innings, allowing one hit, two walks, and striking out two while allowing one earned run, only the fifth earned run given up by the Texas pitching staff through nine games this season. Over Duplantier’s final four innings, he faced the minimum 12 hitters thanks to some help from catcher Silas Ardoin throwing out an attempted base stealer, and retired the final seven batters to come to the plate against him.
The Longhorns found themselves in a rare position during the early going — playing from behind. In the second inning, Duplantier allowed a leadoff double down the left-field line, advanced the runner with a balk, and gave up only the fifth earned run of the season by the Texas pitching staff on a fielder’s choice to shortstop when second baseman Mitchell Daly’s relay throw was a half-step late to first base.
The first time through the lineup against right-hander Cole Wesneski, who pitched four scoreless innings in last week’s win over Oklahoma State, Texas was only able to muster one hit, by designated hitter Murphy Stehly in the second inning with two outs, and wasn’t able to take advantage when third baseman Skyler Messinger grounded out to shortstop.
As the Horns took their second at bats against Wesneski, they started to see the ball better — center fielder Douglas Hodo III singled up the middle with two outs and left fielder Eric Kennedy, back in the lineup after missing two games with a back injury, laced a ball into the left-field gap and hustled to stretch it into a double. Shortening up on a 2-1 breaking ball without a lot of bite and hitting the ball where it was pitched, first baseman Ivan Melendez came through with a big single to center field, driving home both runners to take a 2-1 lead.
After Duplantier settled in during the third inning, inducing three weak groundouts to Faltine at shortstop, Stehly worked a one-out walk and Messinger hit a line drive just over the second baseman’s hit to put runners on first and second. Faltine loaded the bases with a duck snort of a humpback liner over the shortstop, fighting off a 1-2 pitch.
Right fielder Dylan Campbell, starting in place of Austin Todd, hit a 1-0 pitch sharply down the left-field line, but it fell just foul. After fouling off three more pitches, Wesneski was able to strike Campbell out swinging on a fastball, a hugely important pitch for the Sam Houston State starter.
Hodo didn’t waste any time, hitting a breaking ball through the left side side of the infield for a two-run single to give the Horns a 4-1 lead. Kennedy also jumped on the first pitch, singling to left field to score Faltine and add another run to the margin.
Wesneski escaped the inning without further damage when Melendez drove a ball to the warning track in center field, but didn’t have the distance to hit the batter’s eye, which is in fair territory at Don Sanders Stadium, as it used to be at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
With the flyout by Melendez, Texas was 6-of-10 hitting with two outs through four innings and 4-of-7 with runners in scoring position.
An aggressive approach on the base paths helped the Longhorns in the sixth inning, as Faltine went from first to third on a hit-and-run with Campbell and then scored when the center fielder couldn’t handle the ball cleanly. Then Campbell stole second base and moved to third on a flyout. After drawing a walk, Hodo stole second and Melendez loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk, forcing a pitching change. Daly added two more runs with a single through the right side of the infield to beat the shift, pushing the Texas lead to 8-1.
In the seventh, Messinger extended the margin with a two-run home run to left-center field, his first in a Texas uniform, and flashing the altered swing path Pierce hopes will help him unlock some extra power.
Right-hander Daniel Blair replaced Duplantier in the seventh and allowed two hits, including a double off the wall, but induced a weak flyout to center field to end the inning without allowing a run.
In the eighth, right-hander Zane Morehouse followed with his second appearance, giving up an infield hit to the first batter, who advanced to second on a groundout, moved to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a groundout. A filthy breaking down down in the zone recorded the third out and stranded a runner on second base after doubling into the left-field corner.
Left-hander Sam Waldridge gave up a hit to the only hitter he faced in the ninth before giving way to right-hander Lebarron Johnson Jr., who struck out two of the three batters he faced to end the game.
Texas hitters finished the win with a .348 average, producing 14 hits and six walks while coming through in the clutch — 5-of-13 with runners in scoring position (.385) and 9-of-18 with two outs (.500), scoring seven runs with those two-out hits.
Hodo led the way with a 3-of-5 performance with a walk, two runs scored, and two RBI, while four other hitters had two hits.