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No. 23 TCU evens series as No. 7 Texas falls to the Horned Frogs, 7-5

Self-inflicted wounds by the Longhorns allowed the Horned Frogs to claim game two of the three-game series in Austin on Saturday night.

Texas Baseball

Faulty pitching, dormant bats, and uncharacteristic fielding mishaps led the No. 7 Texas Longhorns to drop game two of a three-game series to the No. 23 Texas Christian Horned Frogs, 7-5, at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Saturday.

Texas burned through their ailing bullpen after a dismal start by right-hander Tristan Stevens forced the hand of head coach David Pierce after the second inning. Defensive challenges persisted throughout the game despite the Longhorns entering with a near-perfect team fielding percentage of .986.

The first and second innings spelled trouble for Texas defensively as the TCU offense relentlessly attacked the instability of Stevens. TCU forced two of three Texas errors in the first inning alone as poor decision-making led to a throwing error committed by catcher Silas Ardoin and a fielding error attributed to left fielder Dylan Campbell when he dropped a routine fly ball in left-center field. In the meantime, the TCU hitters posted three runs in both the first and second innings, including a massive three-run jack by TCU third baseman Braden Taylor in the second.

With one run on the board by way of right fielder Murphy Stehly’s home run in the first, Texas bats responded in the bottom of the second inning on back-to-back singles from shortstop Trey Faltine and third baseman Skyler Messinger. A Mitchell Daly groundout advanced the runners to second and third before Campbell’s flyout to left field allowed Faltine to score. TCU right-hander Marcelo Perez was able to hold the Longhorns to one run in the second inning of his pitching debut.

A stunning 23 of the total 47 total pitches tossed by Stevens left the senior’s hand with runners in scoring position, placing undue stress on himself and Texas coaches. Pierce opted to offer maintenance innings to right-hander Aaron Nixon, who has yet to find his rhythm in 2022 while carrying a 3.52 ERA on 15.1 innings pitched. The decision by Pierce marked the earliest entry in Nixon’s career while inheriting a 6-2 run deficit.

Nixon looked more like the 2021 version of himself as he made quick work of the Horned Frogs to retire the side in the top of the third. However, Nixon’s command struggles continued with back-to-back walks to begin the top of the fourth. Pierce immediately turned to his bullpen for another right-hander, calling upon right-hander Marcus Olivarez to hold TCU scoreless despite inheriting two runners on with zero outs.

The glove of Ardoin was often located down in the zone for Olivarez, signaling the dire need for the senior transfer to gift his defense groundouts. After Olivarez earned an out on a pop-up to right field, the Texas defense alleviated tension by turning a Gray Rodgers grounder into a brilliant 3-6-1 double play to close out the inning.

Daly earned his 21st walk of the season while extracting seven pitches from TCU’s Perez during a favorable fourth inning for the Longhorns. With one out and the TCU bullpen stirring, Campbell sent a two-run home run beyond the left-field wall to bring Texas within two runs of the Horned Frogs. TCU skipper Kirk Saarloos selected right-handed pitcher Caleb Bolden to relieve Perez after 73 pitches and while a 5.29 ERA was highlighted in Bolden’s pre-game line, the Texarkana native proved dangerous with an impressive 24-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 17 innings pitched.

Bolden silenced the hot bats of center fielder Douglas Hodo III and Stehly with two groundouts to close out the bottom of the fourth.

Olivarez stepped to the bump against TCU’s Tommy Sacco, who ultimately bested Olivarez and earned an easy stroll to first base. Ardoin continued to rack up his step count on pilgrimages to the mound as he looked to settle his pitcher after the walk. Curtis Byrne continued TCU’s abuse of Texas arms by punching a ground ball into shallow left field. With the Byrne single, the Horned Frogs placed runners on first and second in four of their five offensive showings. Pierce brought in left-hander Luke Harrison after an out at first base allowed TCU’s runners to advance 90 feet. The freshman stepped into his club-leading 15th appearance as the Texas defensive configuration was forced to play in. Harrison quickly utilized his commanding sweeping breaking ball to retire back-to-back Horned Frogs and close out the fifth inning.

Texas bats remained silent in the fifth before a throwing error on Harrison allowed TCU’s Elijah Nunez to advance to second to kick off the sixth inning. Harrison delivered a timely strikeout for the second out of the sixth as Nunez loomed on third base. Ivan Melendez’s elite defense proved critical as the first baseman cleanly fielded a rare off-line throw from Faltine to place a perfect tag on Rodgers to hold TCU scoreless.

Perhaps the brightest moment of the night for the Texas faithful came when two-time All-American and 2011 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year, Taylor Jungmann arrived to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of his induction to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. Another surprise awaited Jungmann when a mid-game announcement informed the legendary ace that he would become the eighth Longhorn to have his jersey number retired. Jungmann’s 26 will formally join the numbers of Roger Clemens and Huston Street — as well as Longhorn Network broadcasters Keith Moreland and Greg Swindell — on the wall of UFCU Disch-Falk Field during the 2023 baseball season.

The TCU bullpen limited the Texas offense as Longhorn bats arose and fell quietly in the home halves of the sixth and seventh innings while trailing the Horned Frogs 6-4. Texas fans saw a glimmer of hope as Messinger initiated a two-out rally in the bottom of the eighth on a line-drive single. That hope was lost when Luke Boyers of TCU secured a Daly pop-up in deep right field to end the inning.

Right-hander Jared Southard became the fifth pitcher employed by Texas throughout the ballgame when he entered in relief of Harrison in the seventh inning. Southard executed well, retiring the first three batters he faced. With two outs in the eighth inning, Southard gave up back-to-back doubles, allowing Sacco to score from second on the double from Kurtis Byrne. The double marked the sixth extra-base hit by TCU, extending their 7-4 lead over Texas.

Caleb Bolden entered the ninth inning in his longest appearance of the season. River Ridings, the left-handed closer for TCU, entered in relief after Campbell dumped his second home run of the night into the Horned Frogs bullpen. The Horns placed the tying run on base after Stehly worked a walk on a 3-1 count, bringing the remaining Texas fans at the Disch to their feet. The intensity heightened as Texas home-run leader Melendez stepped up to the plate with an opportunity to tie the game. After a lengthy review by the Big 12 officiating crew, the game ended as the umpires confirmed a successful 5-4-3 double play turned by the TCU infield on an Ivan Melendez grounder.

With Saturday night’s 7-5 victory over Texas, the Horned Frogs tied the series at one game each between the two storied programs. Texas and TCU will face off in the series finale Sunday afternoon in front of another sell-out crowd at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The first pitch is set for 12 p.m. Central and will be broadcast on ESPNU.