Strong pitching performances from left-hander Lucas Gordon and right-hander Tristan Stevens propelled the No. 19 Texas Longhorns to a 5-3 victory over the No. 18 TCU Horned Frogs at Globe Life Field in Arlington in the Big 12 Tournament on Thursday to send the Longhorns into the semifinals on Saturday.
More importantly, the second straight win in the conference tournament further solidified the case for the Longhorns to host an NCAA Tournament regional in Austin, regardless of whether Texas can secure the postseason championship. According to WarrenNolan.com, the Horns moved up to No. 9 nationally in the RPI after Thursday’s win.
Texas got off to a quick and decisive start in the game. Center fielder Douglas Hodo III hit a ground ball into the hole past the diving TCU third baseman and was initially ruled out at first, but a review overturned the call, putting the leadoff runner on. After left fielder Eric Kennedy struck out, first baseman Ivan Melendez was hit by a pitch and right fielder Murphy Stehly followed by narrowly clearing the wall and the Horned Frogs left fielder for a three-run shot, the 17th of his outstanding season.
TCU right-hander Marcelo Perez went on to retire eight consecutive batters, but Gordon was able to maintain the lead through the first three innings, allowing only a single and a walk.
In the fourth, Gordon’s command faltered, walking Horned Frogs shortstop Tommy Sacco and allowing him to advance to second on a pitch that hit the backstop on the fly. Gordon bounced back with a strikeout to get the first out, but Texas couldn’t get Sacco out in a run down when second baseman Mitchell Daly strayed too far from second base and missed the tag. On a subsequent soft ground ball, Daly misread the hop and allowed Sacco to score on the error to plate the first run for the Horned Frogs.
TCU further narrowed the margin in the sixth when center fielder Elijah Nunez doubled into the left-center gap after a lengthy battle with Gordon, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored on a sacrifice fly. Gordon escaped a hit by pitch to lead off the seventh inning by battling back from a 3-0 count to the second batter and ending the frame without any further damage.
Considering the inconsistency from the Texas bullpen, the eighth inning was huge for the Longhorns in adding two insurance runs amid controversy. After Hodo doubled to left field and advanced to third on an infield single by Kennedy, Hodo scored on a bad balk call. As TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos came out of the dugout in an apparent attempt to intentionally walk Melendez and was quickly and unnecessarily ejected. With two outs, Todd was able to add the second run on a single up the middle as the Horned Frogs played him to pull it into the hole.
Despite battling some lower-body discomfort during warmup throws and throughout the inning, Gordon was able to get two quick outs as he went past his highest pitch count in college after 7.2 innings having allowed two runs, one earned, on two hits with four strikeouts and two walks, another impressive performance. Gordon exited the game on a 2-2 count and left-hander Luke Harrison walked that batter and then allowed a single to put runners on first and third before being pulled in favor of right-hander Tristan Stevens.
Stevens walked the first batter he faced to load the bases after overthrowing his sinker, but struck out Bobby Goodloe on four pitches to end the threat by the Horned Frogs.
In the ninth, Stevens allowed a home run, but closed out the game for his third save of the season to push the Longhorns into Saturday’s 9 a.m. Central semifinal on Big 12 Now on ESPN+. In the loser’s bracket, Oklahoma State and Baylor will play for the right to face TCU in Friday’s elimination game.