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No. 2 Texas returns home to face Incarnate Word

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After spending 10 of the last 11 games away from the Disch, the Longhorns finally return home for a weekend series.

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The No. 2 Texas Longhorns are now eight days away from starting Big 12 play in Lubbock against the No. 17 Texas Tech Red Raiders, affording head coach David Pierce’s team one more weekend series in non-conference play to serve as a tuneup for the conference schedule.

After spending 10 of the last 11 games away from UFCU Disch-Falk Field, the Longhorns host the Incarnate Word Cardinals this weekend trying to gain momentum after snapping a three-game losing streak on Wednesday with a win over The Citadel Bulldogs in Charleston. Texas is 5-0 against Incarnate Word in Austin, but have never faced the Cardinals in a weekend series.

Texas got back on track with Wednesday’s 18-4 victory, a season-high for runs scored, behind 16 hits, including home runs from shortstop Trey Faltine, first baseman Ivan Melendez, and catcher Silas Ardoin, who had a ninth-inning grand slam. More important for the team’s longterm outlook, third baseman Skyler Messinger had three hits against the Bulldogs and second baseman Mitchell Daly has three hits in the last two games after going hitless in the South Carolina series.

In the everyday lineup, the biggest remaining question is at designated hitter. Murphy Stehly is currently playing right field with the absence of Austin Todd and the continued struggles of Dylan Campbell, whose batting average sits at .175. Vanderbilt transfer Jack O’Dowd served in that role on Wednesday and went 2-for-3, his first hits in a Texas uniform. The Longhorns could certainly benefit from his left-handed bat in the lineup — left fielder Eric Kennedy is the only other left-handed hitter who starts for Texas. On Tuesday, Peyton Powell got the start at designated hitter, going 0-for-3, although he did get a hit in an at bat against The Citadel.

Given the current trajectory at the position, Texas is unlikely to find a regular starter at designated hitter before conference play begins.

On the mound, left-hander Lucas Gordon will receive his third weekend start in the place of right-hander Tanner Witt. Gordon was solid in 4.0 innings against UCLA, allowing one run on four hits, but was a little bit more shaky against South Carolina, lasting only 3.1 innings because he gave up three runs on five hits with four walks. The biggest key for Gordon this weekend is continuing to extend himself to eat up more innings and protect the bullpen — he has not pitched more than five innings this season or thrown more than 75 pitches.

Pierce would also surely like to find some more certainty with his bullpen.

Right-hander Travis Sthele likely won’t be available until later in the series after throwing 57 pitchers in 3.2 innings on Wednesday, but he did prove that he can extend himself and was lights out with eight strikeouts and only two hits allowed in his scoreless outing.

On the positive side, Pierce may want to get more work for Lamar transfer Marcus Olivarez, a right-hander with good stuff who hasn’t allowed a run yet in 4.0 innings across four appearances. And with a lower arm angle, right-hander Coy Cobb is once again in the mix for the Longhorns. Since allowing a run in his first appearance of the season against UCLA, he’s had three solid, scoreless appearances.

On the negative side, Winthrop transfer Daniel Blair gave up three runs against Texas State and three runs against South Carolina without recording an out in either appearance. To work his way back into the bullpen rotation, he’ll have to regain some confidence working in a low-leverage situation. Right-hander Zane Morehouse had a rough outing against South Carolina as well, giving up three runs while picking up only a single out, but he did bounce back against The Citadel with a scoreless inning of work.

Incarnate Word enters the weekend series at 9-5 with a 1-4 record away from home. The stiffest competition they’ve faced so far was a series against Houston during which the Cougars won two games.

Right-hander Michael Garza could provide a challenge for the Texas hitters on Friday, however — he has a 1.83 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 19.2 innings, although he did give up four runs against Houston. The staff overall has a 4.28 ERA, but the closer, right-hander Chandler David, has three saves and is holding opponents to a .111 batting average. Seeing David in a save situation would be a disappointment for the Longhorns this weekend.

Four regulars in the Incarnate Word starting lineup are batting .293 or better, led by senior outfielder Ridge Rogers, who is hitting .360. Catcher Reid Hensley is hitting .400 with four home runs as he’s emerged in recent games, so he’s a player for the Texas pitching staff to watch out for if he continues to get playing time this weekend.

First pitch on Friday is at 6:30 p.m. Central, 2:30 p.m. Central on Saturday, and 1 p.m. Central on Sunday. All three games will air on the Longhorn Network.

Probable pitching matchups

FRIDAY – Texas LHP Pete Hansen (3-0, 2.35) vs. UIW RHP Michael Garza (2-1, 1.83)

SATURDAY – Texas RHP Tristan Stevens (3-1, 0.76) vs. UIW RHP Aaron Celestino (3-0, 4.09)

SUNDAY – Texas LHP Lucas Gordon (0-1, 2.35) vs. UIW RHP Isaiah Zavala (1-1, 7.43)