The first meeting between South Carolina and Texas since the 2002 College World Series lived up to expectations as a competitive series, though the result was the same as it was in Omaha, with Texas sweeping the series and outscoring the Gamecocks 15-6 in Austin.
Entering the weekend, the Longhorns were 9-5 on the season after beginning the year 0-3 against top-ranked SEC opponents at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas. South Carolina, on the other hand, entered at a perfect 11-0.
“We still remember Arlington,” said Texas head coach David Pierce following Sunday’s 8-5 win. “That keeps us very humble, that keeps us locked in. It’s a tough game and we didn’t start the way we wanted and after that weekend we had a meeting there in the tunnel and said ‘We’re going to remember this weekend. We’re going to remember how we started and every single day when we feel like we’ve got it figured out, we’re going to remember that.”
Texas competed like it remembered that weekend very well, playing with a level of residency and fight evident in teams with the potential to be playing in Omaha by the end of the season.
"What a great weekend," Pierce continued. "We had a team that went out and played consistent baseball. We had some timely hits and outstanding pitching against a very good hitting team.
"I'm proud of our players. Whatever we've thrown at them, they've handled it."
If there was one key for the Longhorns in the victories, it came in the form of Texas’ starting pitching. South Carolina was hitting .311 as a team entering the weekend, but the trio of Ty Madden, Tristan Stevens, and Kolby Kubichek kept the Gamecocks in check, finding ways to keep South Carolina off the basepaths.
South Carolina had trouble getting the ball in the air, grounding out 15 times in Saturday’s 3-0 shutout, and the nation’s leader in home runs, Wes Clarke, was held to just one homer in the series. The Gamecocks did post 21 hits, but were unable to convert those into enough runs.
Madden began the series on the right foot for Texas, showing excellent poise despite having trouble throwing his slider.
"The thing with Ty tonight is that he really didn't have command and feel for his slider and he was basically pitching off of one pitch, so that tells you what kind of competitor he is," Pierce said postgame on Friday. "He didn't have his best, but he gave us seven (innings)."
He gave Texas seven innings, and most importantly, allowed just one run on a sacrifice fly in the second inning. The Gamecocks’ three, four, and five hitters, composed of Clarke, left fielder Joisah Sightler, and right fielder Andrew Eyster tallied all four of South Carolina’s hits, three coming off Madden, with Sightler scoring the lone run. Reliever Aaron Nixon earned the win, as Texas scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to earn the 4-1 win.
Stevens, who started for Texas on Saturday, followed the same storyline. His sinker worked well, he said postgame, especially as he faced the opposing lineup for the second and third time.
"I'd say the biggest thing was using my sinker," Stevens said. "My sinker command was a lot better than my past couple outings had been. Being able to throw that more, especially the second and third time through the order, helped open up my secondary stuff and keep those hitters off balance."
His slider also worked him out of a jam in the fifth, as South Carolina placed runners on the corners with two outs following an error from Texas’ third baseman Cam Williams. Clarke stepped to the plate, and though he had been quiet for much of the series, still posed one of the biggest offensive threats from Texas’ perspective. Stevens induced two foul balls, with a ball sandwiched between, before striking out Clarke on what he labeled as one of his best sliders in the start.
“I stepped off the mound, and I realized that this was something I'm used to," Stevens of facing Clarke. "I had to stop and tell myself, 'I've been in this situation before. I know how to get out of it.' I regrouped. I knew that was their best hitter, but I knew that if I challenged him with my best stuff then he'd have to hit it. That slider was definitely one of my best ones."
The Gamecocks went down quietly in the next four innings, losing the series, but still holding onto the possibility of leaving Austin with a win.
That was not in the cards, however, as Texas went full throttle at the plate in the series finale, earning an 8-5 win. The offense came alive for the Longhorns against South Carolina starter Julian Bosnic, who made it through just three innings in his first loss of the season.
Using an old-school scoring mentality, Texas did not hit a single home run on Sunday, instead scoring on two sacrifice flyouts, three singles and two doubles, making the most of its 11 hits and stranding nine runners in comparison to South Carolina’s 13. All nine of the Longhorns’ starters tallied at least one hit in the game, with designated hitter Ivan Melendez and left fielder Eric Kennedy contributing with two hits each. Catcher DJ Petrinsky had just one hit in his fifth start of the season, but that double scored Texas’ fifth and sixth runs in the fourth inning, sealing the series sweep.
Following Sunday’s loss, South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston was visibly disappointed in his team’s performance in its last weekend before SEC play, but noted that it was a “learning experience.”
“Disappointed with the weekend, and the results obviously,” said Kingston, “but we learned a lot about this team that we can take forward both good and bad. We’ll make whatever adjustments we need to make and we’ll be better for having played this weekend.
“The biggest thing is that if you’re willing to schedule these types of series, you’re going to have to be willing to take the punches and the hard lessons sometimes. We had a few hard lessons this weekend, the key now is to learn the adjustments that need to be made.”
Those adjustments will be critical as South Carolina progresses through a challenging SEC schedule. #2 Vanderbilt looms this coming weekend, as the Gamecocks will travel to Nashville, Tennessee for the three-game set.
Texas opens up Big 12 play in Waco, Texas this weekend, facing Baylor.
The Horns moved up to #14 College Baseball Nation’s most recent Top 50 rankings, while the Gamecocks fell from #17 to #30.