Seeking a sweep for the first time in Big 12 play, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns squandered an opportunity to make a move in the conference standings by giving away a 5-1 lead in an 8-5 loss to the Kansas State Wildcats on Thursday in Manhattan.
The two-time reigning Big 12 Pitcher of the Week, Texas left-hander Pete Hansen, got off to a strong start, striking out eight batters through the first three innings, but one again proved susceptible to the long ball, allowing three home runs to push his season total to eight and ultimately giving up six earned runs, the most in his career.
Needing some help from the bullpen after struggling in the seventh inning, right-hander Jared Southard replaced Hansen and gave up the decisive three-run home run to shortstop Nick Goodwin on his second pitch.
Texas wasn’t able to rally in the final two innings as Kansas State brought in Sunday starter Connor McCullough with runners on first and third in the eighth inning. The decision by Wildcats head coach Pete Hughes paid off, at least on Thursday, as Texas left fielder Dylan Campbell hit a sharp ground ball to third base on McCullough’s second pitch for a double play to retire the side.
McCullough got through the ninth without any issues, increasing his availability later in the weekend as Texas first baseman Ivan Melendez was substituted out of the game with shoulder discomfort.
Both starting pitchers struck out the side in the first inning — with Hansen working around a leadoff single — before Texas right fielder Murphy Stehly extended his hitting streak to 20 games with a leadoff single in the top of the second. Catcher Silas Ardoin followed with a single of his own, putting some pressure on Kansas State right-hander Griffin Hassall. Designated hitter Austin Todd advanced the runners with a well-executed sacrifice bunt and third baseman Skyler Messinger came through with a two-run single up the middle to put the Horns on the board first.
Hansen helped maintain the momentum by striking out all three Wildcats he faced in the second, giving him six strikeouts in seven batters faced. In the third, Hansen struck out the first two batters looking before his strikeout streak ended with a weak grounder to shortstop Trey Faltine.
Ardoin recorded his second to lead off the fourth, barreling up a fastball and sending it over the wall in left-center field for his fifth home run of the season to give the Longhorns a 3-0 lead.
The all-time home run leader at Kansas State, first baseman Dylan Phillips, responded by crushing a poorly-located fastball left up and out over the plate off the batter’s eye behind the center-field fence to get the Wildcats on the board.
The string of solo home runs continued in the fifth as Campbell got a fastball in a favorable location and made no mistake of it for his fifth home run in the last nine games. Center fielder Douglas Hodo III made it back-to-back blasts, reaching out for a fastball over the outside part of the plate for his fourth home run.
Phillips hit a second home run in the sixth, a inside-out fly ball that cleared the fence in left field thanks to some impressive power on an absurd launch angle from Phillips, the seventh home run Hansen has allowed this season. A double and a single then cut the Texas lead to 5-3 as Kansas State finally forced Hansen to elevate his pitch count.
A third solo home run by the Wildcats in the seventh further cut the deficit after the Longhorns failed to extend it. Melendez singled up the middle after Hodo was picked off first, then tried to score on a double by Stehly into the left-field corner, but the relay was good and Melendez was thrown out easily at the plate and Ardoin couldn’t come through with a base hit to score Stehly.
So once again an aggressive decision by Texas head coach Pierce at third resulted in an out at the plate and limited opportunities in the inning. Combined with Hodo’s mistake in getting picked off on a reviewed play and the Horns simply had a terrible inning on the bases that helped decide the game.
Hansen got into more trouble with a double into the right-center gap as the Texas bullpen finally started moving with the left-handed ace’s pitch count up into the 90s and no outs. Initially, Hansen made himself a break by coming off the mound well on a bunt and throwing out the runner at third base.
But the Longhorns weren’t ultimately able to take advantage of poor execution from the Cats as Hansen walked the next batter and Faltine made a throwing error on a fielder’s choice as Hansen tried to retire Phillips. The tying run scored and while Southard got away with a mediocre slider on the first pitch, his subsequent fastball wasn’t good enough as Goodwin delivered his decisive three-run home run.
On Friday, the Horns have a chance to bounce back from the extraordinarily disappointing loss with a 6 p.m. Central start in Manhattan on Big 12 Now on ESPN+.