On Tuesday evening at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, one team looked like a ranked squad ready for the stretch run of conference play. That team was not the No. 10 Texas Longhorns, which turned in another inexcusable performance in a 14-2 loss to the Air Force Fighting Falcons, an under-.500 team entering the game.
Air Force used five runs in the second inning and six runs in the eighth inning to demolish Texas, out-hitting the Longhorns 11-6, including two home runs, and drawing eight walks. First baseman Ivan Melendez and Eric Kennedy both returned to the lineup with Melendez hitting his 17th home run of the season, but Texas hitters couldn’t set the table for him and Kennedy left the game in the seventh when his left hamstring grabbed again.
In an equally-concerning development, Tuesday starter Justin Eckhardt wasn’t able to record an out in the second inning and the bullpen was once again inconsistent, setting up a Wednesday game with a starter to be announced.
Eckhardt quickly got into trouble, struggling to effectively command his sinker, allowing a base hit to the first batter, walking the second, and then giving up another single to load the bases with no outs. The right-hander was able to trade a run for a groundout to first base and another for a groundout to second base before ending the inning with a strikeout, but Air Force quickly established a 2-0 lead.
Texas tried to use a two-out rally to score in the bottom of the inning when Melendez singled up the middle after missing two games and right fielder Murphy Stehly blooped a double into short right field. But catcher Silas Ardoin got down in the count 0-2 before hitting a ball reasonably well, just right at the Air Force second baseman.
Leading off the second inning, Braydon Altorfer launched a pitch that was up and inside into the breeze and deposited the ball into the Air Force bullpen in left field. Eckhardt continued to struggle, allowing a hit and then a walk, prompting left-hander Luke Harrison to enter the game with runners on first and second with no outs in the second inning.
Harrison was able to strike out the first batter he faced, but walked the second batter to once again load the bases full of Fighting Falcons. A sacrifice fly pushed the Air Force lead to 4-0, a two-out single made it 5-0, and a three-run home run by Paul Skenes made it 8-0.
Texas was unable to immediately cut into the lead, leaving two runners stranded when shortstop Trey Faltine and left fielder Eric Kennedy both struck out. Only one other runner was left on the base for the remainder of the game.
Right-hander Lebarron Johnson Jr. quickly got into trouble when he entered the game in the third inning, allowing a leadoff walk and then a single, but induced a double play started by third baseman Skyler Messinger and struck out the next batter to post the first scoreless frame by a Texas pitcher.
Melendez was healthy enough to lead off the third with a home run off the batter’s eye in center field.
The Horns looked like they might benefit from windy conditions at the Disch when the Air Force right fielder dropped a routine fly ball, but Stehly was only able to reach second base and the inning ended when Ardoin hit into a double play.
Texas added a run in the fourth inning, which Air Force got back in the sixth when right-hander Andre Duplantier hit a batter with the bases loaded, resulting in his exit without recording an out in that frame. Right-hander Daniel Blair, making only his second appearance in the last month, struck out the first batter he faced before the inning ended on a double play started by second baseman Mitchell Daly and while Blair retired the three batters he faced in the seventh, he wasn’t able to continue his success into the eighth inning. The first batter struck out but reached on the wild pitch, Blair hit the second batter, then gave up a bunt single and a three-run double. Air Force added another run on a throwing error by Ardoin
At the plate, the Longhorns simply couldn’t get to right-hander Rob Martin and his sidearm delivery — the reliever for the Fighting Falcons went four innings without allowing a base hit, ensuring that head coach David Pierce’s team wasn’t able to get deep into the Air Force bullpen.
Texas returns to the Disch on Tuesday with first pitch at 4 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network as the Horns attempt to avoid another embarrassing loss.