The Texas Longhorns battled to a standstill with the No. 1 LSU Tigers on Tuesday evening at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, only to allow two walks to lead off the ninth inning and then the go-ahead home run in the 3-0 loss.
Left-hander Chris Stuart came on in relief to start the inning and threw a strike on his first pitch before issuing eight consecutive balls to put runners on first and second with no outs. Texas head coach David Pierce called to the bullpen for right-hander Andre Duplantier to face LSU second baseman Gavin Dugas, the leadoff hitter for the Tigers. The pitch-calling sequence combined with questionable command from Duplantier didn’t help the situation — Duplantier threw three consecutive breaking balls to get to a 2-1 count, affording Dugas the opportunity to sit on a fastball. And instead of getting the ball under the hands of Dugas, Duplantier left the fastball out over the plate and Dugas made no mistake about it, sending the pitch deep into the Austin evening.
“At the end of the day, you walk two guys and had to groove a pitch and that’s the bottom line,” Pierce said. “So we didn’t make them earn the three runs in the ninth.”
Texas went down in order in the ninth, ending a game in which the Longhorns batted .138 and recorded only four hits while going 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position. Center fielder Eric Kennedy had two of those four hits, but the three batters after him in the lineup combined to go 0-for-10.
So it was the pitching that helped the Horns stay in the game, led by a sterling effort from right-hander Lebarron Johnson Jr. in his second career. The lanky redshirt sophomore reached 97 miles per hour with his fastball and mixed in several effective offspeed pitches, including a splitter that struck out LSU star center fielder Dylan Crews in the first inning. Johnson did have some of his typical command problems, walking two and hitting another batter, but he was otherwise sensational, pitching five scoreless innings while scattering three hits and striking out nine batters, a career high.
The strong start to the season is already raising the question of whether Johnson could move into the weekend rotation.
“No, it’s not too early to say that,” Pierce said. “It’s electric. It’s real stuff. That’s Friday night stuff for anybody in the country. I think for him it’s just repeatability and being able to just feel more and more comfort.”
The Longhorns could use some comfort at the plate, too — through eight games, Texas is hitting .214 as a team with five regular starters batting .208 or below. Other than the 12-2 win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, Texas is averaging only 2.9 runs per game.
The first road trip of the season looms this weekend as Texas travels west for a three-game series against 2-4 Cal State Fullerton.