The No. 9 seed Texas Longhorns got off to a strong start in the Austin Regional, picking up a hugely important first win, 11-3, against the Air Force Fighting Falcons on Friday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Texas scored five runs in the fifth inning to break the game open and received a big performance from third baseman Skyler Messinger, who went 4-for-5 with two runs and three RBI. Murphy Stehly, starting at second base, added three hits and designated hitter Austin Todd had three RBI. On the mound, Longhorns left-hander Pete Hansen scattered eight hits over 6.2 innings, allowing three runs, with five strikeouts and two walks.
Texas made Air Force ace Paul Skenes work hard in the first inning, forcing him to throw 34 pitches and scoring two unearned runs before picking up the their first hit thanks to two errors by the Falcons. Center fielder Douglas Hodo III was hit on a full-count pitch to open the game, left fielder Eric Kennedy reached base on a sacrifice bunt thanks to an error by the Air Force catcher, and Hodo scored when the second baseman made an error on a fielder’s choice hit by first baseman Ivan Melendez. Kennedy scored the second run on a sacrifice fly by Todd. And it was only then that Messinger singled for the first Texas hit.
A single and a double by the Falcons in the second inning cut the Longhorns lead to 2-1, but Texas once again gave Skenes trouble in the bottom half of the frame. Shortstop Trey Faltine singled after a loud out into deep left field by right fielder Dylan Campbell and Hodo followed with an infield single. Skenes was able to get ahead of Melendez 1-2 with two fastballs for strikes before getting some help from his second baseman, 5’6 Trayden Tamiya, who ranged deep up the middle on a well-hit line drive from Melendez to make a leaping, falling catch at full stretch to keep the Horns off the board.
Air Force tied the game in the third thanks to a two-out, full-count walk on a close pitch from Hansen and a double into the right-center gap on the following pitch.
Second baseman Murphy Stehly doubled into the opposing bullpen in the third and narrowly scored on a single by Messinger into right field with a strong slide.
Texas had a chance to pick up another run, but the Air Force defense made another big play to end the frame on a running catch at the wall in left field to rob Campbell of extra bases, the second straight strong but ultimately empty at bat from Campbell.
In the fifth inning, Hansen gave up a leadoff hit and then walked the following batter, but got a flyout, a strikeout, and a groundout to get out of the jam.
Before Skenes could return an out in the bottom half of the inning, the Longhorns loaded the bases and chased him from the game. Melendez doubled into the left-center gap, Stehly singled up the middle, and Todd was hit by a pitch, putting Texas in position to extend the lead as the Falcons went to their bullpen. Messinger did exactly that, roping a single into left field to score two runs. After catcher Silas Ardoin failed to execute a sacrifice bunt, popping out to the pitcher, Campbell walked to load the bases once again and Faltine was hit by a pitch to make it 6-2. An error by the Air Force third baseman following another pitching change afforded Texas another run and Kennedy drove in another while narrowly missing a grand slam, sending a ball to the warning track in right-center field.
Texas scored again in the sixth when Messinger continued his torrid hitting, singling into right field, stealing second, and scoring on a double by Ardoin down the left-field line.
Hansen allowed a third run in the seventh, departing with two outs and runners on first and second in favor of right-hander Marcus Olivarez. Air Force wasn’t able to add any more runs as Olivarez struck out the first batter he faced and then worked through a 1-2-3 eighth inning.
In the eighth inning, the Horns scored two more runs when Melendez was hit by a pitch, Stehly singled, and Todd drove them both home with a double to right-center field.
Right-hander Coy Cobb came on in the ninth inning and allowed a one-out double, but shut down the Falcons without allowing any other baserunners.
Texas will face the winner of this evening’s Louisiana Tech-Dallas Baptist game at 6 p.m. Central on Saturday.