Kurt Wilson did it again.
After a bold and unbelievable steal of home in the 10th inning against the No. 2 Texas Longhorns on Friday to push the No. 16 Texas Tech Red Raiders to 5-4 win, Wilson hit a walkoff grand slam on Saturday to pull out a back-and-forth affair as the Red Raiders took the series with the 16-12 victory in 10 innings at Dan Law Field at Rip Griffin Park in Lubbock.
KURT WILSON PLAYS HERO AGAIN!!!!!— Texas Tech Baseball (@TTU_Baseball) March 26, 2022
GRAND SLAM WALK-OFF TO BEAT TEXAS, 16-12!!!!! pic.twitter.com/ke4FsBQTnz
The opposite-field home run by the Texas Tech shortstop came after Texas right-hander Andre Duplantier entered the game with the score tied at 12-12, the bases loaded, and one out. Duplantier was able to induce a fielder’s choice that saw first baseman Ivan Melendez make a throw to the plate, but Wilson was able to barely clear the wall in right field on a decent fastball from Duplantier.
The Longhorns were in that position because closer Aaron Nixon continued to struggle.
In extra innings, third baseman Skyler Messinger led off with a walk and after Ace Whitehead pinch ran for Messinger, pinch hitter Dylan Campbell hit into a fielder’s choice. Left fielder Eric Kennedy put runners on first and second with a single through the right side of the Texas Tech infield, affording a chance to center fielder Douglas Hodo III. Despite recent struggles, Hodo hit a ball into center field that skipped into Dillon Carter’s glove, scoring Campbell, but not Kennedy, who missed the plate in his initial slide and wasn’t able to beat the Texas Tech catcher before he was tagged out.
So after giving up the game-winning steal of home by Wilson on Friday night, Nixon had a chance to redeem himself with a save. But once again, his fastball command was virtually non-existent and his slider lacked bite up in the zone, where he was forced to throw it for strikes.
Nixon gave up a double to the leadoff batter on a hanging slider, threw a wild pitch on his fastball to allow the runner to advance to third, then couldn’t keep the tying run from scoring after a hit by pitch when he couldn’t cleanly field a comebacker and was late throwing to the plate. After another walk, Nixon was pulled in favor of Duplantier, who couldn’t clean up Nixon’s mess.
Texas nearly overcame the worst start from right-hander Tristan Stevens in his Longhorns career — the Missouri native allowed seven runs on five hits with two walks and failed to retire a single batter before he was pulled from the game.
The bullpen largely picked up the slack until the late issues and the offense used two solo home runs in the fifth inning, three runs in the seventh inning, and four runs in the eighth inning to take a lead after facing the early 7-2 deficit. Melendez and right fielder/third baseman Murphy Stehly were sensational, combining to go 10-for-10 with two home runs each and seven total RBI. Overall, the Horns batted .438 with 21 hits, but stranded 14 runners on base and dealt with a stretched bullpen thanks to the struggles of Stevens.
The Longhorns wasted little time taking the lead. Kennedy reached base on an infield single, the 54th of his career, and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Hodo. For a fourth straight game, Melendez homered, a two-run shot to left field on a hanging breaking ball from Texas Tech’s Brandon Birdsell.
It was the first home run allowed by Birdsell this season and the 12th for Melendez, whose sensational breakthrough season in 2021 featured 13 blasts.
For the second straight game, Easton Murrell led off with a home run for Texas Tech on the first pitch he saw from Stevens. After a hit up the middle — the first hit in the series for the Red Raiders that didn’t leave the park — Stevens walked Jace Jung and gave up a chopper through the left side that scored Cole Stillwell to tie the game. The command issues for Stevens continued as he walked the bases loaded. On a hanging breaking ball, Owen Washburn doubled into the right-center gap to score two runs and give the Red Raiders a 4-2 lead. After another run scored on another single, Stevens was pulled without recording an out after allowing five hits and two walks.
In 23 starts over the last two seasons, Stevens hadn’t lasted less than 3.1 innings with the five runs allowed matching his worst performance, which also came against Texas Tech last year. When right-hander Marcus Olivarez promptly gave up a two-run double, the tab for Stevens reached seven runs as Olivarez wasn’t able to immediately stop the bleeding. A weakly-hit ball down the first-base line resulted in the first out recorded by Texas pitching and catcher Silas Ardoin helped Olivarez out by throwing out Parker Kelly when his lead off third got a little too aggressive.
Texas put runners on first and third with one out in the second, but weren’t able to score when Kennedy popped out to second base and Hodo struck out swinging. In the third, the Horns threatened again as Melendez led off with an opposite-field single and Stehly followed with a double into the left-center gap. Birdsell was able to strike out Ardoin looking on a fastball that caught the outside corner and shortstop Trey Faltine struck out swinging, as did third baseman Skyler Messinger.
Through the first three innings, the Longhorns stranded five while going 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position, only the slightest of improvement over Friday’s 0-for-8 mark. Ultimately, Texas came through with 6-of-19 hitting with runners in scoring position, but it wasn’t enough.
After stranding another runner in the fourth, Texas decided to simply continue hitting the ball out of the park — Melendez led off with his second home run of the day and Stehly made it back-to-back shots with a home run of his own to cut the Texas Tech lead to 7-4.
The Texas pitching allowed the Horns a chance to get back into the game — after Olivarez allowed a double to the first batter he faced, he was able to get through the rest of his two innings of work without further damage and right-hander Zane Morehouse was even better, striking out three and only allowing a walk in his four innings.
Melendez continued his tear in the seventh with a bloop single, advancing to second on a wild pitch before Stehly drew a walk. Ardoin, who entered his at bat 0-for-8 in the series, came through with a big hit, smashing a double to the wall in left-center wall to score two runs and cut the Texas Tech lead to 7-6.
Faltine moved Ardoin to third on a sacrifice bunt, setting up an RBI opportunity for Messinger, who delivered with a line-drive double in the right-center gap to tie the game.
Right-hander Travis Sthele got himself in trouble in the seventh, hitting a batter with one out and then allowing a base hit to bring Texas Tech slugger Jace Jung to the plate with a runner in scoring position. A huge play by Kennedy in left field retired Jung — Kennedy caught a fly ball from Jung in foul territory just before crashing into the wall. When Sthele subsequently induced a grounder to third for a fielder’s choice, he was able to escape the inning with the game still tied.
In the eighth, the Longhorns were finally able to regain the lead. Hodo drew a one-out walk and Melendez followed with a two-strike single before Stehly put a hanging breaking ball over the wall in left field for a three-run home run, his second of the day.
Texas added another run in the inning after Ardoin drew a walk, Faltine singled, and Messinger doubled into left field to score Ardoin.
Sthele and left-hander Luke Harrison weren’t able to consolidate the momentum, allowing three runs in the eighth inning and forcing an appearance from Tuesday starter, right-hander Justin Eckhardt, who gave up the game-tying single before getting out of the frame by striking out Jung looking.
It wasn’t until Texas had two outs in the ninth inning that they started to put pressure on Texas Tech. Melendez drew a walk and Stehly stayed perfect on the day, hitting a missile down the left-field line for a double. When Ardoin walked after just missing a three-run home that he pulled foul, it was left to Faltine to come up big at the plate, but Faltine took a hittable fastball at 1-1 and then couldn’t catch up with another to strike out.
Texas is hitting well enough to win, but wasn’t able to come up with enough clutch hits given the issues in the bullpen, where too many of the high-profile arms are currently unreliable, including Nixon. A handful of pitchers have the stuff to get outs consistently, but can’t regularly command their pitches well enough in high-leverage situations.
Although Nixon was lights out for almost the entirety of his freshman season, he’s now dealing with mechanical and mental issues and no one else has stepped up to bail him out. So there are significant concerns looming with the bullpen as Longhorns head coach David Pierce tries to get out of games with late leads of the type Texas has blown to drop this series against Texas Tech.
On Sunday, the Horns send left-hander Lucas Gordon to the mound at 2 p.m. Central on Big 12 Now on ESPN+ looking to avoid the sweep.