The No. 7 Texas Longhorns hosted the No. 23 TCU Horned Frogs in the first game of a huge Big 12 series on Friday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field and came away 2-0 winners. TCU sophomore right-hander Riley Cornelio was excellent, but Texas’ own sophomore lefty Pete Hansen was nothing short of masterful. In a big-time atmosphere — a soldout Disch, the band and cheer squad in the house along with Bevo — Texas delivered a huge win.
Innings 1-3: All Pitching
Each starting pitcher announced his presence with authority in the first. Hansen started the game with a gorgeous three-pitch strikeout of TCU leadoff hitter Elijah Nunez, bringing absolute filth on a pair of sliders. He then came back from a 2-0 count against shortstop Tommy Sacco to paint the outside corner with a fastball for strikeout number two. After starting third baseman Brayden Taylor 0-2, Hansen got him swinging on a 2-2 slider.
Cornelio was up for the challenge, getting sophomore center fielder Douglas Hodo III to pop a 94-mph fastball to center. Senior right fielder Murphy Stehly jumped on the first pitch and couldn’t quite get the barrel on it, flying out slightly deeper to center than Hodo. That brought up junior first baseman Ivan Melendez, and after pumping several more mid-90s fastballs at him, Cornelio pulled the string to get the Titanic swinging on a nasty curve ball.
Hansen started the second with a one-pitch out on a cue-balled grounder to second, ostensibly just to make sure his fielders were paying attention. He struck out TCU second baseman Gray Rodgers twice: Rodgers failed to check his swing on what should have been strike three and the umpire let him get away with it, so Hansen froze him with a slider three pitches later. He remained perfect through six hitters on a slow roller to short by catcher Kurtis Byrne, which Skyler Messinger hustled over from third to cut off; Melendez made a great play on Messinger’s errant throw, applying the tag before Byrne reached the bag.
Cornelio kept dealing as well, getting sophomore catcher Silas Ardoin looking on another gorgeous breaking ball. Designated hitter Austin Todd grounded out before shortstop Trey Faltine went down on three pitches.
TCU right fielder Luke Boyers was Hansen’s next three-pitch strikeout victim, whiffing on a breaking ball despite Hansen apparently missing his spot. Designated hitter Bobby Goodloe attempted to bunt for a hit and Hansen showed he can field his position as well, throwing a dart to first to get him by a step. Left fielder Garrison Berkley finally gave the game its first base runner with a single up the middle but Hansen once again got Nunez, this time on a hopper just in front of the plate handled by Ardoin.
In the bottom of the third, Messinger had the Longhorns’ first hard-hit ball of the game but it was a one-hopper right to Sacco at short for the first out. Second baseman Mitchell Daly worked a 2-0 count before getting fooled on a cut fastball that would’ve been ball three. That opened the door for Cornelio to come back and get Daly on a check-swing strike three. Right fielder Dylan Campbell popped out to first and Cornelio remained perfect through a third of the game.
Innings 4-6: Texas Breaks Through
A groundout to short, another to second, and a strikeout: Hansen was still cruising through four. Back to the top of the order for Texas and Hodo became the Horns’ first runner on a 5-pitch walk. Stehly’s at-bat then had an incident that you might call “controversial” but I would call “terrible umpiring:” a pitch halfway into the other batter’s box drew a half-hearted check swing, which was inexplicably called a strike. But as they say, ball don’t lie — Stehly smoked a single off Cornelio’s glove to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, and the Horns had runners at the corners with none out for the power-hitting Melendez. But Ivan watched strike three, bringing up Ardoin. Stehly swiped second as Ardoin swung through the first pitch, which turned out to be huge as Ardoin grounded out sharply to shortstop to score Hodo. The grounder would have been a tailor-made double play ball if not for Stehly’s steal. Todd attempted to bunt himself aboard and Stehly home, but pushed it is little too far toward the mound and Cornelio got him by a couple of steps. Texas had the 1-0 lead heading to the fifth. A groundout to Daly at second, a fly out to Stehly in right, a fly out to Hodo in center.
Halfway through the game, Hansen hadn’t allowed a Horned Frog past first base and hadn’t allowed a base runner at all with fewer than two outs.
Faltine opened the home half of the fifth with a sharp grounder down the third base line that Taylor made a beautiful play on, fielding it cleanly in perfect position to make a long rocket throw across to get the speedy Texas shortstop. But after a four-pitch walk to Messinger and a line drive single to right by Daly to move him over to third, Texas had something going for the second straight inning. Campbell, the nine-hole hitter, served up a perfect double-play ball to Sacco and the Frogs took advantage to get out of the inning unscathed.
Back out for the sixth, Hansen induced an easy fly out to Campbell on a 1-2 fastball off the bat of Goodloe before Berkley stepped back in. Another check-swing controversy as Berkley appeared to go around on the second pitch but the first base umpire said he didn’t, and Hansen issued his first walk of the game on four pitches. That brought Nunez and the top of the TCU order back up. After a fifth straight ball to start the at bat, Ardoin visited the mound to settle Hansen back in. It worked to the extent Hansen got back to throwing strikes, but Nunez ultimately drove a 3-2 pitch just out of Faltine’s reach and TCU had two on and one out with Sacco up. Hansen got him looking for a second time, this time on a fastball on the outside corner. But the job wasn’t done yet, with three-hole hitter Brayden Taylor standing in. A, shall we say, inconsistent strike zone got the count to 3-0 before Hansen fought back to 3-2. Taylor hit it hard to the right side but Daly played it smoothly off the short hop and ended the threat. It was by far the most Hansen had had to labor to that point, but he was through six innings in under 75 pitches.
The top of the Texas order started the sixth with Hansen seemingly in desperate need of some insurance runs. Hodo started it by drawing another walk and Stehly followed with a multi-foul-ball battle that Cornelio ultimately won with a strikeout. Melendez smoked one up the middle that Sacco laid out for, getting Hodo at second but no double play.
Ardoin worked another walk to bring up the senior Todd with a man in scoring position and two away. Cornelio fought back from 3-0 to work the count full, and Todd popped up to right field to keep the score at 1-0 heading to the seventh.
Innings 7-9: Hansen outlasts Cornelio
It was a true pitcher’s duel between the starters, but it was Texas that had put together scoring threats in three separate innings and managed only one run. It was a nervy situation as it felt like TCU might have at least one more threatening inning ahead. But it wasn’t the seventh, as Hansen struck out Bishop, induced a grounder to Faltine from Rodgers, and popped Byrne up for a breezy three outs.
Cornelio came back out for the bottom of the seventh to face Texas’ 6-7-8 hitters. Faltine led off with a laser into the left field corner for a double and a golden opportunity to get an insurance run — or break the game open. Messinger drew a walk on a full count and after Cornelio started Daly 1-0, first-year Frogs coach Kirk Saarloos made the call to pull Cornelio after a great performance. He left with six-plus innings pitched, giving up only three hits but with five walks and still responsible for the runners on base.
Saarloos turned to right handed side-arm reliever Luke Savage. After a foul bunt attempt, Faltine stole third; no one was covering second on the play but Messinger apparently didn’t notice, as he did not steal second concurrently. That almost led to disaster on the next pitch, as Daly hit a sharp ground ball to short that scored Faltine. But Sacco had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and was able only to get the fielder’s choice at second, and not the double play. Next, Campbell worked the count back from 1-2 to draw a walk and bring it back up to Hodo. The leadoff man couldn’t deliver, however, as he swung at the first pitch and gave Sacco a second double play opportunity with a bouncer to short. This time there was no bobble, and once again the Horns stranded a runner. But this time, at least, they plated a run first.
Hansen came back out in the eighth to face the bottom of the TCU order and started by inducing a groundout to Faltine by Boyers. Hansen got Goodloe looking on another fastball painting the outside corner, and got his third shot at ninth-hitter Berkley — the only Frog Hansen had yet to retire to that point. Hansen remedied that deficiency by freezing Berkley with a perfect fastball for his 10th strikeout of the night. Texas came up with the heart of the order due against Savage, looking to pad the lead.
But Stehly rolled weakly to Sacco at short, Melendez struck out, and the inning looked to be over as Ardoin hit a long fly ball into the right field corner that Boyers appeared to have a bead on. But the right fielder couldn’t make the catch and even though the ball bounced off his glove, it was scored a double for the Texas catcher. Savage then hit Todd on the elbow and suddenly Texas had a two-out scoring opportunity with Faltine up. Faltine put together a strong at-bat, battling back from 0-2 to a full count. Savage threw what looked for all the world like strike three and even started running off the field in celebration, but the umpire saw the pitch a touch outside and Texas had the bases loaded for Messinger. To his credit, Savage regrouped and quickly got Messinger in a 1-2 hole. The Texas third baseman fought off two good pitches to stay alive before popping up to Sacco in shallow left field, and three more Longhorns were left stranded on the base paths.
Texas coach David Pierce never even got a reliever warming in the bullpen, sending Hansen out to try and get the complete-game shutout against the top of the Frogs’ order. Nunez’ K looking at a slider on the outside corner made 11 strikeouts for Hansen on the evening, and Sacco grounded out to Messinger to bring the sellout crowd to its feet. Taylor put up an admirable fight, but Hansen ended the night in appropriate fashion: his 12th strikeout, on yet another fastball perfectly placed over the outside corner of the plate.
With the bullpen’s recent struggles, a complete-game gem from Hansen was absolutely massive.
The win is Texas’ third straight and brings the Longhorns to 4-3 in Big 12 play, while dropping TCU to 6-4. Texas will try to clinch the series tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Central on ESPNU behind right-hander Tristan Stevens. TCU is expected to throw righty Marcelo Perez (2-1, 2.16 ERA). A series win, or even better a sweep, would be a big boon to Texas’ conference title aspirations.