The second game of the series-ending doubleheader in Columbia on Sunday was even worse than the first for the No. 1-ranked Texas Longhorns, as the Longhorns couldn’t get anything going and a disastrous fourth inning on the mound led to a 9-4 win for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the rubber game.
The less said about this one, the better, so I’m taking the unusual step of giving you a tl;dr here at the beginning — first baseman Ivan Melendez hit another big home run to put Texas up 1-0 in the first.
South Carolina tied it in the third, but left-hander Lucas Gordon still looked to be in control until the fourth, when a barrage of walks and singles led to a South Carolina five spot. From there it was all Gamecocks, as the Longhorns had only one hit until a game effort at an impossible comeback in the ninth.
For any gluttons for punishment, more detail follows.
Gordon started that fourth inning strong with a strikeout, but immediately gave up a walk. With one on and one out, he started Josiah Sightler with a 3-0 count, which to Gordon’s credit he worked back to 3-2 before surrendering a single to right field. It was then that Gordon gave way to right-hander Daniel Blair.
Blair immediately gave up a line-drive single up the middle to Elijah Lambros to load the bases, and proceeded to walk in the go-ahead run. Shortstop Michael Braswell, who got the save in today’s first game, smoked a single up the middle to score two and Texas’ No. 1 ranking was starting to feel a touch fraudulent. Braylen Wimmer punctuated the feeling with another line-drive single to score another run, and South Carolina had four runs home and just one out. Blair was done without getting an out.
The pitching change didn’t immediately end the nightmare inning, though, as right-hander Coy Cobb gave up another single through the left side to Gamecock cleanup hitter Andrew Eyster. Third baseman Kevin Madden followed it with a sacrifice fly to Eric Kennedy in left for a 6-1 lead. Cobb finally ended the inning by striking out designated hitter Talmadge LeCroy — the same hitter who struck out to start the inning, five runs and two pitchers earlier.
Needing a response, Texas had none. Freshman left-hander Matthew Becker continued to confound the Longhorns as they went down in order in the fifth. Cobb returned the favor in the bottom of the frame against the South Carolina 7-8-9 hitters, who had been dangerous during the Gamecocks’ fourth-inning rally.
Dylan Campbell drew a walk to start the Texas half of the sixth and immediately moved up to second on a wild pitch. That brought up the top of the order to face Becker for the third time through the order, with a critical opportunity to get Texas back in the game. Center fielder Douglas Hodo III struck out looking, fooled as Becker came inside with a fastball when Hodo seemed to be expecting something middle-out. Kennedy followed him by striking out swinging. Melendez drew a four-pitch walk as Becker was clearly pitching around him, bringing up catcher Silas Ardoin, who flew out to left to end what passed for a Longhorn threat.
Right-hander Zane Morehouse came out to start the sixth for Texas to face the top of the South Carolina order. First baseman/leadoff hitter Brandt Belk led off with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but Morehouse came back to get Braswell swinging. Belk stole third while Morehouse was walking Wimmer to set up runners at the corners and more trouble for Texas.
With Eyster at the plate, Wimmer swiped second in another indication of which team had the initiative today. Eyster bounced a single up the middle to go up 8-1 and frankly, my decision to continue watching at that point should show you how much I care about the BON community.
Madden continued his big day by muscling a bloop single off the handle and that was it for Morehouse. Right-hander Aaron Nixon came in to try and stop the bleeding. (Reader: he did not.) He walked his first hitter on four pitches, and then a slow roller to third scored South Carolina’s ninth run. Nixon did get a swinging strikeout to end the inning, but at that point the Gamecocks had nin runs on 12 hits to Texas’ one run on one hit. An absolute beatdown however you slice it.
In a cruel twist of fate, the first game of the doubleheader — in which Texas could’ve used six more outs to keep hitting the ball hard and hope for a breakthrough to overcome a two-run deficit — was a seven-inning affair while this one, which Texas would’ve been happy to end after seven, was scheduled for a full nine.
Faltine’s at bat in the eighth was emblematic of how the Horns were just off kilter today, striking out on three check swings. That Dylan Campbell followed it with a rocket right at Madden for the second out was, frankly, a bit of an on-the-nose metaphor from the baseball gods. To the Longhorns’ credit, they did put up a fight in the ninth inning, getting three runs across and looking like a threat to make a run at the impossible until Faltine’s well-hit ball out to right just barely missed the perfect trajectory, going for a sac fly instead of a three-run homer that would have made things legitimately interesting.
So Texas completes a 2-3 week and is 2-4 in their last six games after starting the season appearing invincible. I won’t pump sunshine and pretend this weekend didn’t have some potentially worrying developments. Texas clearly has some work to do to find a third starter replacement for Tanner Witt. The bullpen was less dominant than the staff’s 1.79 ERA coming into the weekend would have indicated. The failure to find timely hits in game one was enough to give any longtime Texas baseball fan an unpleasant sense of deja vu. And the failure to find basically any hits at all in game two was, obviously, even worse.
But it’s also one week in a very long season. Your eyes did not deceive you when it looked for all the world like Texas was an Omaha contender. They still are; baseball is just like this sometimes. Texas could easily have won the first game today and then we’d be talking about going in the road and taking two of three from an SEC team. But South Carolina outplayed Texas on this particular day. The sky isn’t falling, even as the team’s ranking is certain to drop this week.