Texas baseball opened conference play with a 3 game sweep against Kansas, winning Sunday’s series finale by a final of 5-4. After an emotional week, the Longhorn’s now sit atop of the Big 12 standings and will take on Sam Houston State on Tuesday before returning to conference next weekend when they host Oklahoma State in Austin. Let’s take a look at some thoughts and takeaways from the weekend.
Pitcher of the Weekend- Blair Henley
For the first time since opening weekend, Texas saw all 3 members of their weekend rotation deliver good starts. Nolan Kingham kicked off the series by allowing 4 earned runs, but tossed a complete game at a time when the Texas bullpen desperately needed the rest. Chase Shugart closed out the series by lasting 6 innings and allowing 3 runs, striking out 2. In between them, Blair Henley scattered 5 hits across 7 scoreless innings, striking out 4. The sophomore right-hander continues to show great command and the ability to throw all his pitches for strikes. Overall, it was an encouraging weekend by the Longhorn rotation against a Kansas team that entered Big 12 play as one of the better hitting teams in the Big 12.
Hitter of the Weekend: Kody Clemens
Clemens continues to be one of the best hitters in the conference. The junior hit .363 with 2 home runs and 6 RBI’s over the course of the 3 game series, adding a pair of walks. Both home runs came in the 1st inning of games 2 and 3, jump starting the Longhorn offense. Clemens has started all 21 games in the 3 spot of the order and continues to produce.
Stat of the Weekend- .363
.363 is what Texas’ 1-4 hitters combined to hit on the weekend. Masen Hibbeler, Duke Ellis, Kody Clemens and Zach Zubia were very reliable at the top order. Although Kansas was missing their top starting pitcher, the Longhorns saw some quality arms throughout the series, and the top half of the order produced good results. Hibbeler and Ellis gave Texas a good combination of contact hitting and speed all, with Clemens and Zubia taking advantage of RBI opportunities. The lineup will only continue to get better once they welcome back David Hamilton, who missed all 3 games with a thumb injury.
The biggest takeaway from the weekend is the fact Texas showed a lot of mental toughness. The Longhorns entered the weekend on a 5 game losing streak and then were delivered the news on Thursday that legendary coach Augie Garrido had passed away at the age of 79. It was an emotional week for the players and coaches, but it helped propel them to maybe the 3 most complete performances of the season. It is only fitting that Texas showed a style of baseball that would make Garrido proud. Good pitching, solid defense, timely hitting, determination and unselfish play were on display all weekend, and all those traits were used to describe nearly every Texas team under Garrido. A series sweep against a solid Kansas club is exactly what Texas needed heading into the rest of conference play.
Random Notes and Thoughts
Andy McGuire picked up his first career save on Sunday afternoon. David Pierce said after the game that he felt the Jayhawks were making good adjustments to the fastballs Texas pitchers were showing them, so he decided to bring in McGuire and have him ulitize his slider. It worked out perfectly.
It appears Jake McKenzie is making a strong case to be the primary first basemen. The lone senior on the club continues to show terrific defense and is stringing together quality at-bats, including a 3 walk performance in the series finale.
One other player who had a good weekend and has not been mentioned is Tate Shaw. Shaw hit .454 in his 11 at-bats, including a RBI triple on Friday night. The junior has been very strong against right-handers this season, and should continue to receive the bulk of the playing time in LF.
Quotes from David Pierce
Overall thoughts on the sweep
“There’s a lot of great teams in our league. To get that last one today to finish it was just a great tribute to our team. We needed a lot of people to get it done today and they did, especially in the back end. We jumped on them early, and did a great job of jumping on Zeferjahn and they had to start pitching us backward, and we ended up having 7 base on balls and tacking on. Just a great, great sweep for us to start conference.
On the bullpen
“I thought Josh really had stuff on the ball. He really did. He’s just to keep working on getting the ball down. His curveball is good and we have to continue to work on his changeup. They had seen Beau so many times and I felt like he had did his job there in the 8th, and Andy was awesome in the 9th.”
On ending the week on a high note after a tough start
“We had a brutal week last week, and to regain confidence and come back home and open conference play and sweep is huge. I just like the way we played, not so much that we won 3 games, but we pitched well, played great defense all weekend and swung the bats really well. What can you say? Now we build on it, now we have to be in a position where we are never satisfied, and that’s what we have been talking about. Hopefully we can continue to play the game right.
Despite early exit in CWS, 2018 season a huge success for Texas
David Pierce sat down for his press conference following the Longhorns 6-1 loss to Florida in an elimination game at the College World Series. The first statement out of his mouth was something everyone who follows college baseball could agree with.
“There’s nobody in this room and nobody in this country who expected this team to be here,” Pierce said. “And they did a heck of a job from start to finish, from the fall ball into early spring. The things that they had to accomplish to get here is incredible.And I can only saw how proud we are as coaches and the effort that they gave us and the way they represented the University of Texas.”
Entering the 2018 season, Texas faced the daunting task of replacing 11 MLB draft picks from a 2017 squad that reached the Long Beach Regional Final. It was a tall task, and Pierce, along with assistant coaches Sean Allen, Philip Miller and Phil Haig, filled the holes by bringing in several junior college players along with nearly a dozen freshman. When it was all said in done, nearly half Texas roster would be spending their first season on the forty acres.
“Coming in this year, people expected it to be a building year due to everybody we lost year,” junior Chase Shugart said following Tuesday’s loss.
“We had a lot of new guys that came in, and we didn’t know them at all,” Kody Clemens added. “And honestly the time that I was at UT we never really had an junior college guys come in. So it was different.”
In addition to all the new faces in the program, the injury bug struck Texas before the season even began. Junior college transfer Donny Diaz and freshman Cole Quintanilla, both of whom figured to be key parts of the Texas pitching staff, underwent Tommy John surgery, forcing them to miss the entire 2018 season. The transition of Chase Shugart from a reliever to a starter left the bullpen with major question marks, especially in the back end.
For the first month of the season, there were mixed results. Texas suffered a series loss at LSU and at home against Stanford while also being swept in a midweek series at Arkansas. Despite entering conference play with a 9-9 record, the Longhorns confidence never wavered. As conference play began, roles started to be established. Andy McGuire, who was not on the team the previous two seasons, emerged as the Texas closer. Parker Joe Robinson, a player Pierce admitted he wasn’t sure going to be a contributor on his team, had an ERA under 1.00 in Big 12 play. Duke Ellis cemented his place at the top of lineup and hit .390 during conference play.
Texas started to build momentum, and they rode the momentum all the way to Omaha, a place the Longhorns had not been since 2014, which felt like an eternity for a program that has a record 36 appearances on college baseball’s biggest stage.
It was not always pretty, as David Pierce admitted after Texas beat Tennessee Tech in game 3 of the Austin Super Regional, but it worked. From the moment he became the head coach, Pierce brought his style of baseball to Austin. He wanted the Longhorns to be mentally tough and have an edge.
“The attitude we had was gritty,” Chase Shugart said when asked to reflect on the season. “We weren’t given anything; we had to take it. We took the Big 12 championship, like we needed, and the Regional and the Super Regional.”
In just his second year in Austin, Pierce re-energized a program and a fan base hungry for success. Following Tuesday’s loss, he spoke with the media openly and honestly, making sure to point out the 2018 season was anything but a disappointment.
“This motivates you and this builds a culture of expectation from our program,” Pierce said. “And that’s the beauty of it. Their accomplishments were great, but what they’ve done for Texas athletics and Texas baseball is tremendous.”
Now, Pierce and his staff will go back to work, preparing for the 2019 season where the Longhorns will likely return 7 of 9 starters in the lineup. As he has done from the very beginning, Pierce talked about embracing the process and building off success.
“Hey, let’s build off of (this CWS appearance),” he said. “Let’s understand we are a pretty good team, especially when we do things together and do the little things. This wasn’t easy. For things to develop the way these kids allowed them to, and to accept the game and not force it, but to keep playing. I mean we go down the stretch, we are 3 (games) back going into the last weekend of the regular season, we sweep and roll through the regional and the supers, how can we regret anything.”
The 2018 season marked David Pierce’s first trip to Omaha as a head coach. It likely won’t be his last.
Texas falls to Arkansas in CWS opener, 11-5
If Texas hopes to make some noise in their first trip to the College World Series since 2014, they will have to do so by going through the loser’s bracket. Sunday’s 11-5 loss to Arkansas in the CWS opener puts the Longhorns in a very tough position, needing 4 straight wins to advance to the Championship Series.
The loss to the Razorbacks drops Texas’ record to 0-3 this season against the old SWC rival. One of the top offenses in the country pounded out 15 hits and pulled away in the 6th inning behind an 8-run outburst against 6 different Texas pitchers.
Here are some thoughts and takeaways from a long day in Omaha:
- Texas starter Nolan Kingham battled through 5 innings, allowing 5 runs on 9 hits while striking out 4 and walking 1. Although the final line wasn’t very good, Kingham looked pretty good for the first 4 innings of his outing. He attacked pretty well with his sinker and flashed a plus slider at times.
- “Yeah, the pitch count was down, just a couple of balls running away from me and leaving the ball up, and made a few mistakes and they capitalized. And that was it”- Nolan Kingham’s thoughts on his outing
- The 5th and 6th innings were ultimately his undoing. With one out in the 5th and a runner on first, Kingham appeared to induce what could have been an inning ending double play. A hard groundball to Jake McKenzie was briefly bobbled, but McKenzie recovered and fired to David Hamilton at second base for the force out. Hamilton, who had a little more time than he thought for the return throw, threw wildly of first trying to complete the double play. The throw extended the inning, and Luke Bonfield made Texas pay by blasting a 2-run home run into the LF seats to give Arkansas a 3-2 lead.
- In the 6th and with the Longhorns still trailing 3-2, Kingham allowed back-to-back singles to open the frame. Despite his starter having only 82 pitches, David Pierce opted to go to the bullpen to call on Parker Joe Robinson, who has been outstanding the entire postseason. That is when things fell apart…
- Robinson walked both batters he faced to force in a run, which David Pierce even admitted after the game is something he never expected from his right-hander. Robinson entered the contest with 9 walks in 30 ⅔ innings.
- “Hindsight is a beautiful thing. You look back at that and you would really say should have stuck with Nolan. But Parker Joe hadn’t walked two guys in the entire year back to back and that’s what happened. And it just unraveled.”-Pierce
- Josh Sawyer then entered the game and promptly walked Eric Cole, forcing home another run.
- After Cole’s walk, the contest entered a 2 hour and 49 minute rain delay. Once it reached a certain point, it was obvious Sawyer would not be returning to the mound. With the game still within reach at 5-2, David Pierce had a decision to make on who he was going to bring with the bases loaded and nobody out when play resumed
- Pierce chose Chase Shugart, and it did not work out like he would have liked. Shugart allowed back-to-back singles and hit a batter, allowing 3 more runs to score. To Pierce’s credit, he pulled Shuart after 11 pitches, meaning the right-hander should still be in line to start Tuesday’s elimination game. Personally, I didn’t mind the decision. If Shugart were to escape the jam, Texas would have only trailed 5-2 with 3 innings remaining.
- “No, that’s why he only went 11. The thinking was we’re in a pickle. We need to get our best guy in the game right now. And if we can get it within one run, as far as giving up one run, so it’s a four-run deficit, and then we can tack on runs, maybe two, then we were going to stick with Chase. Otherwise, we were going to get him out, keep him available and move to the next guy, and that’s what we did”- Pierce on the decision to go to Shugart
- Shugart gave way to Kamron Fields, who recorded two outs but allowed 2 more hits and a walk. Ultimately, Andy McGuire came in finish out the inning, but at that point, the damage was done. Arkansas had 8 men cross the plate and the game was out of reach.
- Texas had limited success against Arkansas starter Blaine Knight, who admitted after the game he didn’t have his best stuff, but it worked. Knight threw all of his pitches for strikes and kept Texas off-balance.
- Tate Shaw was the best player on the field for Texas. The centerfielder collected 3 hits, including a triple to the RCF gap in the 3rd that eventually allowed Texas to tie the game at 1.
- Kody Clemens was held in check. Texas’ best hitter finished the afternoon 1 for 5 with 2 strikeouts. David Hamilton, Duke Ellis and Clemens combined to go 1 for 11 at the top of the order.
- DJ Petrinsky barely missed a 2-run home run in the top of the 2nd, flying out to the wall in LF. If anything can be taken away from the first three games at the CWS, it is that the ball has to be absolutely crushed for it to go out.
Texas will now need a win on Tuesday to stave off elimination. Chase Shugart should take the ball for the Longhorns, and all the eyes will be on the Texas pitching staff. The Longhorns had their fair share of struggles offensively against Arkansas, but Texas isn’t going to win many games when allowing 5 walks and 15 hits. The pitching will have to be superb for the Longhorns to have a chance to make it through the loser’s bracket.
Omaha Bound: 5-2 win over Tennessee Tech sends Texas to College World Series
Last weekend, David Pierce said he knew Augie Garrido’s presence was with his team. So as game 3 against Tennessee Tech unfolded, did Pierce have the same feeling he had during the regional?
“No doubt. I was rubbing Augie’s jersey in the 7th inning,” Pierce said after the game.
The result? The Longhorns are headed back to the College World Series.
An emotional 5-2 game 3 win over Tennessee Tech punched the Longhorns ticket to Omaha and solidified that the special 2018 season would end with Texas playing on the biggest stage.
As has been the theme for the majority of the season, Texas received huge performances from unlikely sources. Josh Sawyer said last week that the Longhorns are a team of misfits, but the team of misfits is now heading to the College World Series.
I will have some more content as the week progresses, but for now here are some thoughts and takeaways from the biggest win for Texas Baseball since 2014:
- As I was leaving the ballpark yesterday, I ran through the different pitching options Texas could turn to today. Kamron Fields, Matteo Bocchi, Nico O’Donnell and Bryce Elder all seemed like viable candidates, but I had a feeling Pierce would lean towards the hot hand and go with Bocchi. Pierce did just that and was rewarded in a huge way. Bocchi delivered 5 strong innings, allowing 1 run on 4 hits while striking out 3. His sinker appeared to have a lot more life than in his previous starts, and the Italian native made the best offense in the country uncomfortable for the majority of his time on the mound.
- “Well Matteo has thrown well in our extra period last week. He threw well in the regionals and I knew his fastball would play if he commanded. He threw enough sliders, actually they probably eliminated the sliders because he wasn’t throwing it for strikes enough, but he hit the location.”-Pierce on Bocchi
- Ryan Reynolds has struggled during the postseason, but it had to be a welcome sight for him to see left-hander Alex Hursey on the mound. Since he began switch hitting again, Reynolds has hit left-handers a lot better than right-handers. In the 2nd inning, Reynolds put Texas on the board with a 2-run double into the gap in left-center. Later in the game, he also singled against right-hander Ethan Roberts.
- DJ Petrinsky, who was moved up in the order to the 5-spot on Sunday, delivered a solo home run in the 3rd inning. Petrinsky has probably been the second best hitter in the postseason for Texas, and has served as a legitimate power threat.
- Matt Bragga jokingly said yesterday that they may walk Kody Clemens every time he came to the plate today. Well, Bragga may have wished he said that statement seriously. Clemens smashed his 3rd home run of the weekend in the 3rd inning, an opposite field solo shot. There is little doubt who the best hitter in the country is right now, and David Pierce even said so after the game.
- “This young man is the best hitter in college baseball when the game is on the line.”-David Pierce on Clemens
- Pierce admitted after the game that he did not know how Blair Henley would respond throwing in back-to-back days for the first time this season. Henley entered in the 6th in relief of Bocchi and walked both batters he faced. He was unable to locate his fastball, and Pierce had to make a change quickly.
- “It was risky, because Blair hasn’t gone back to back, even though he only threw like 39 pitches yesterday. And so, we had a little hiccup there and got the ball to Parker Joe and that’s where we needed it.”
- After Josh Sawyer faced two hitters in relief of Henley, Pierce opted to bring in Parker Joe Robinson, who may reliever Texas has at the moment. Robinson worked 2 ⅔ scoreless innings and continued to effectively get hitters out by using his unusual arm slot.
- “Always, I mean he doesn’t ever get to start clean innings. It’s usually bases loaded and nobody out. If he has one out we basically tell him, hey this is a luxury for you, this is easy. It happens. Kody can admit that, we talk about it on the mound. He’s just so cool. The thing is he isn’t trying to be anybody else, he does what he can. Great with location and he’s touching 90 with that slot right now. That’s something you don’t see enough as a hitter as far as day to day BP. You don’t see this enough and when you can command it to both sides it really makes a difference.”-Pierce on Parker Joe Robinson
- With Tennessee Tech making things interesting in the 9th inning, Pierce opted to bring in Nolan Kingham, who had thrown 95 pitches in his start on Saturday. Kingham responded by recording the final two outs for his third save of the season. David Pierce said yesterday that everyone would be available, and it proved to be true.
- Texas will kick off the College World Series on Sunday against either South Carolina or Arkansas, who play a game 3 later today. The CWS is formatted in 2 four-team double elimination brackets, with the winners from each bracket meeting for best-of-three series.
Texas staves off elimination with 4-2 win over Tennessee Tech
As has been the case for the majority of the season, Texas responded with their backs against the wall. Facing elimination and going against Tennessee Tech’s ace Travis Moths, the Longhorns pieced together just enough offense and received a great performance on the mound from Chase Shugart and Blair Henley to force a decisive game 3 Monday afternoon. The 4-2 win featured what has carried Texas for most of the postseason, clutch pitching and the big bat of Kody Clemens.
The Longhorns and Golden Eagles will square off again tomorrow at noon with a trip to the College World Series on the line. Here are some thoughts and takeaways from a season saving win at the Disch:
- Chase Shugart has elevated his game in the postseason, and he showed it again Sunday afternoon. The right-hander tossed 6 innings, allowing 1 unearned run while striking out 5 and walking 5. Although the command wavered at times and he was only able to make it through 6, Shugart was able to shut down the best offense in the country.
- “It was a great pitching performance by Chase (Shugart), there’s no doubt. He put us in the position to win, to give us an opportunity.”-David Pierce on his starter
- During the 6th inning, action began in the Texas bullpen. Parker Joe Robinson and Blair Henley both started throwing. Yesterday, I said I would not be surprised if Pierce turned to Henley at some point today, and he ended up doing exactly that. Henley came in to start the 7th and besides allowing a lead-off home run on the first pitch he threw to David Garza, was really effective. The sophomore recorded the first save of his career on only 39 pitches, likely making him available tomorrow.
- “Well, this is the thing, there’s no tomorrow if we don’t win today. It makes no sense to me to have our next best guy sitting in the bullpen and then we’d never get to him, for the simple fact that we’re waiting on playing him tomorrow. We had an opportunity to win and we went for it. Plus, he gives Parker Joe (Robinson) and Josh (Sawyer) some rest. I knew he was fresh, I knew his stuff would play and it was the right decision for us.”-Pierce on the decision to go to Henley
- Texas has done an excellent job of putting up runs in the first inning during the NCAA Tournament, and they did again in game 2. David Hamilton worked a lead-off walk and eventually scored on a 2-out double by Kody Clemens to give Texas an early 1-0 lead.
- Oh, and Kody Clemens homered again. The 3rd round pick of the Detroit Tigers blasted his 23rd home run of the season in the 3rd innings, giving Texas a 3-1 lead. Clemens belted a pitch fastball from Travis Moths over the RF wall. Later in the game, Tennessee Tech intentionally walked Clemens with a base open, opting to face Zach Zubia with the bases loaded. Golden Eagles head coach Matt Bragga joked after the game that they may intentionally walk Clemens every time he comes up to bat tomorrow.
- “Early in the game we were willing to see what would happen there. We would not walk him and put runners on that early in the game. Late in the game, obviously we’re going to walk him there. But in the first 3, 4, 5 innings we’re doing everything we can do to attack guys. And he beat us- good job. The double, the home run, the young man is a great player, that is why he is up for the Golden Spikes Award. Maybe tomorrow we’ll walk him every time we face him tomorrow. I mean this kindly, but the guy is an animal, I just don’t see the weaknesses right now. He’s as good as we’ve seen all year, this park plays fairly big, and he’s popping them out of here like it’s a cracker jack box.”- Tennessee Coach Matt Bragga on choosing to pitch to Clemens
- David Pierce opted to shake the lineup up prior to game 2, moving up Jake McKenzie from the 9 spot to the 6 spot, and dropping Ryan Reynolds from 6 to 9. The result? McKenzie collected another double and Reynolds collected his first hit of the weekend with a RBI bloop double in the second inning. Despite Reynolds struggles at the plate, Texas had to keep in the field because of his defense. The move down in the order made sense and Pierce was rewarded with his decision.
Looking ahead tomorrow
- Tennessee Tech has already announced their starter, LHP Alex Hursey. Hursey is 8-4 on the season with a 4.52 ERA. In last weekend’s Oxford Regional, Hursey turned in a complete game win against Missouri State in an elimination game.
- Despite Hursey getting the start, it would not be surprising to see closer Ethan Roberts throw the most of any Golden Eagles pitcher tomorrow. Roberts threw 56 pitches on Saturday and received Sunday off. He has been used as a multiple inning guy the entire season, and Monday will be no different. Last weekend, Roberts threw 47 pitches on Saturday before coming back to throw 107 pitches in a start on Monday. The 4th round pick of the Chicago Cubs and his nasty cutter will be leaned on heavily.
- David Pierce did not announce a starter. As mentioned above, expected game 3 starter Blair Henley threw 39 pitches out of the bullpen. Henley will likely still be available tomorrow, but it may not be in a starting role.
- So where does that leave Texas? David Pierce could go a number of different directions. He mentioned after the game that he needed to look at the matchups before determining a starter. Kamron Fields and Matteo Bocchi both seem like logical choices, and both have starting experience at some point this season. Bryce Elder is another option, but he has not thrown yet in the NCAA Tournament. Elder possesses a nasty cutter and when he commands it, he has no problems retiring hitters. Regardless of who starts, it will be an all-hands-on-deck game for the Longhorns. Pierce said every pitcher is available, even if it’s for just a batter. Nolan Kingham and Chase Shugart have experience as relievers, and Kingham in particular could be an intriguing arm to bring in at some point. The right-hader has been up to 98 MPH out of the bullpen.
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