All good things must come to an end, and the perfect season is no more.
For the first time in 253 days since their last loss in the College World Series semi-final on June 26th, 2021, the No. 1 Texas Longhorns have lost a baseball game. The UCLA Bruins defeated the Longhorns on Sunday afternoon 5-1 at the Shriner’s Classic at Minute Maid Park in Houston as Texas wasn’t able to create nearly enough scoring opportunities in this game, and were overpowered by the Bruins pitching staff in the loss.
In the tournament finale, the Longhorns, coming off the heels of two impressive victories over No. 17 Tennessee and No. 7 LSU, set out for yet another weekend sweep against UCLA. Head coach David Pierce elected to go with left-handed sophomore Lucas Gordon as the starter over Tanner Witt, who was held out for precautionary reasons.
Texas HC David Pierce said postgame Tanner Witt was scratched with problems related to a "muscular issue" above his elbow.— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) March 7, 2022
Said Witt is "good" structurally, and that the move was 100 percent precautionary. More from Pierce... pic.twitter.com/HI6zaLPujc
It was Gordon’s second start of the year, but the second-year pitcher has pitched excellent in his three appearances thus far in 2022, coming into tonight’s game with eight innings pitched under his belt with no earned runs, and had allowed fewer base runners (three) than he had strikeouts (five) on the season.
Gordon made it through the first and second innings with ease, but ran into some trouble in the top of the third. A leadoff double allowed UCLA to set the table for key hitting that moved the runner to third and eventually score off a single to right field. Texas responded in the bottom of the fourth with a run of their own, with first baseman Ivan Melendez launching a no-doubter over the left field Crawford Boxes to tie the game at 1-1.
That highlight is as far as it went for Texas scoring plays on the day, as the Longhorns managed just two more hits in the remaining five innings.
To start the fifth inning, Gordon was pulled in favor of right-hander Lebarron Johnson Jr. Johnson didn’t see much work, facing just three Bruins — after notching a leadoff flyout, Johnson issued a walk to UCLA speedster and Jose Altuve stand-in Kenny Oyama.
Oyama proceeded to steal both second third base before scoring off a bloop single to center field, pushing the Bruins to a 2-1 lead.
Pierce opted for another pitching change, this time going with left-hander Ace Whitehead. It was a big moment for Whitehead, both due to the close game he was thrust into, and because this was his collegiate debut as a pitcher. Whitehead’s inexperience showed a bit in this half inning — his erratic pitching led to a passed ball, allowing another UCLA run to score. He was able to record the final two outs and escape a jam, but not before UCLA worked up to a 3-1 lead.
The Bruins added one more run in the sixth inning after Whitehead allowed a leadoff triple and double to follow up. The pitching combo of Daniel Blair, Coy Cobb, and Sam Walbridge took Texas the rest of the way, combining for four innings of work, giving up one run, allowing just one hit and three walks and striking out six Bruins.
In all, you have to give credit to UCLA’s pitching staff and whole team for their performance this weekend. The Bruins outscored their opponents 21-6 over the weekend, and will likely find themselves ranked in the top 25 after a slow start to their season.
Meanwhile, while this loss may leave a sour note on an otherwise impressive weekend for Texas, there was no shame in today’s defeat. UCLA is an underrated team, and this one loss doesn’t discredit the opening two wins over Tennessee and LSU, teams expecting to host the first round of the postseason tournament. Texas will likely keep their No. 1 ranking for next week, as every other school in the top five lost at least one game this past week.
The next games for Texas will be a double-header of sorts up and down I-35, with a home-and-home series against Texas State, in San Marcos on Tuesday and in Austin at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Wednesday. Those games shouldn’t be overlooked like they have in years past, as the Bobcats boast a 10-2 record this season and are coming off a 2-1 series win in Tucson, Arizona against the No. 11 Arizona Wildcats. You can catch Tuesday’s game on ESPN+, and Wednesday’s game on Longhorn Network.