The No. 9 seed Texas Longhorns couldn’t get much going through six innings against Louisiana Tech Bulldogs right-hander Ryan Jennings, but three runs on six consecutive hits in the seventh helped the Longhorns separate in a 5-2 win on Saturday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in the Austin Regional.
Left-hander Lucas Gordon and right-hander Tristan Stevens dealt with consistent threats from the Diamond Dogs, but regularly rose to the occasion in front of a record college baseball crowd of 8,502 at the Disch as Louisiana Tech stranded 13 runners in the game.
Gordon struggled some with his command in the first inning, in part a result of Saturday’s umpire not calling as many high strikes as Friday’s umpire, putting runners on first and second with one out following a hit by pitch and a walk. The left-hander was able to battle back to strike out the next batter and secured a flyout to left field to end the inning.
In bottom half of the inning, Jennings was able to retire the first two batters with relative ease, but hit first baseman Ivan Melendez — the fifth time in the last six games for the Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year — and second baseman Murphy Stehly to get into some two-out trouble. Like Gordon, however, Jennings escaped with a groundout to second base by designated hitter Austin Todd.
In the second, Gordon looked like he was headed towards an easier inning after sandwiching outs around a single. Instead, he gave up a two-out double to the No. 9 hitter for Louisiana Tech, forcing him to face shortstop Taylor Young, the best hitter for the Bulldogs, with runners on second and third. Throwing a fastball on a 1-2 count, Gordon got a swing and a miss from Young.
Right fielder Dylan Campbell put the Longhorns on the board in the bottom of the frame, lining a home run into the wall behind the visitor’s bullpen with two outs.
Another hit by pitch from Jennings in the third inning, this time of shortstop Trey Faltine, sparked a verbal outburst from Faltine, who wasn’t happy about wearing the mistake from Jennings, a breaking ball that slipped out of his hand.
In a familiar trend, Gordon had to deal with two baserunners in the third, this time after two singles, once again making pressure pitches to get a flyout to right field and a strikeout swinging. The ability to live dangerously without consequence ended in the fourth inning on a double down the right-field line, a sacrifice bunt, and a single to tie the game. To Gordon’s credit, he was able to get through the entire inning only throwing nine pitches, an important development given his elevated pitch count.
To get through the fifth inning unscathed, Gordon needed some help from his defense — center fielder Douglas Hodo III threw out a runner trying to go first to third on a single and then made a leaping catch at the wall in right-center field for the inning’s third out.
Gordon was able to get one out in the fifth inning, but departed in favor of right-hander Tristan Stevens after allowing a single to Louisiana Tech catcher Jorge Corona, the ninth hit by the Diamond Dogs in the game. The final line for Gordon included six strikeouts, a walk, and a hit by pitch. The first out came easily for Stevens — on his first pitch — but the second batter singled to put runners on first and third as Louisiana Tech continued to seek its breakthrough knock. It didn’t come, as Stevens got a three-pitch strikeout to end the inning to the delight of the record crowd at the Disch.
After Stevens escaped another jam — Louisiana Tech stranded two runners in five of the first seven innings — the Longhorns finally got it going at the plate as right-hander Kyle Crigger entered the game after a phenomenal outing for Jennings. Crigger struck out Faltine to open the inning, but then gave up singles to Hodo, left fielder Eric Kennedy, Melendez, and Stehly as Texas put up two runs.
A fifth straight single by Todd failed to score Melendez, who was thrown out from right field on a play upheld on review, but the Horns did add another run on the sixth straight hit, this time a double from third baseman Skyler Messinger.
Entering the game, Crigger’s season high for hits was five in 4.2 innings, during which he also set his season high with three runs allowed. Texas went into the seventh inning with only three hits the entire game.
Stevens marked another inning for a Texas pitcher struggling with runners on base after a leadoff double and a one-out single put runners on first and third. A chopper to Melendez secured the second out in exchange for a run, but that was it for the Diamond Dogs as Stevens struck out the next batter swinging.
The Longhorns added an insurance run in the eighth after Faltine led off with a double, advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Hodo, and then scored when pinch hitter Mitchell Daly sent a sacrifice fly deep into center field.
In the ninth, Stevens slammed the door with ease, setting up an Austin Regional final against the winner of Sunday’s game between Louisiana Tech and Air Force at 7 p.m. Central.