#6 Texas went to Fort Worth with a mission this past weekend.
And they accomplished it.
Well, to an extent.
The Longhorns edged out the Horned Frogs on Friday in a 5-4 win, before falling by the same margin in a 2-1 contest Saturday. Sunday was dominated by Texas as the Longhorns earned a 9-3 victory, winning the series two games to one. While Texas may have won the series, TCU kept its hold on first place in the Big 12, though its lead shriveled down to a single game.
“We played a great ballgame Friday night, and then we felt like we let that one get away from us yesterday,” Texas head coach David Pierce said on the radio following Sunday’s win. “I just loved the way we responded. We were aggressive. We went for the series. We didn't sit back and expect them to hand it to us. Coming in here, winning two of three against a top ten team, that’s big-time.”
With the exception of the series finale, a game in which Texas led 9-0 until the bullpen floundered in the ninth inning, the series was as it was predicted to be; evenly-matched with tight contests. The first two games of the series were literally decided on the contest’s final at-bat.
Texas, who won its 11th series of the season, moved up to 38-12 on the year and 15-6 in conference play, sliding into the top five at #4. TCU, who has a 16-5 mark in Big 12 action, only fell back one spot to #6. The rest of College Baseball Nation’s Top 50 can be found here.
So much of the series relied on the pitching, though both team’s offenses stepped up at times when needed most.
One shining example of that came in the series opener, when, in the eighth inning with the score knotted at four, Texas center fielder Mike Antico launched a solo home run over the right-center field wall, giving the Longhorns their final lead of the game.
The TCU offense was as advertised early against the pitching of Texas ace Ty Madden, who went 6.0 innings, allowing three runs, two of which were earned. After the Longhorns went up 1-0 in the first, TCU countered with a run of its own in the bottom half of the frame. In a play that should have ended the inning, Horned Frog catcher Zach Humphreys lined a ball to third base that was fielded by Texas’ Cam Williams and fired to first. But Williams’ throw was off target, allowing Humphreys to advance to second on the play. Veteran first baseman Gene Wood displayed a great piece of two-out hitting in the following at-bat, driving in Humphreys, who had stolen third, on a single to right field.
The game saw three ties, though TCU never led. The Horned Frogs made a final push for a comeback in the ninth inning, as Texas reliever Tanner Witt allowed a walk and single to open the frame before Aaron Nixon was summoned from the bullpen. Nixon slammed the door shut on the Horned Frogs, notching a quick three-pitch strikeout for the inning’s first out. He did lose control on a wild pitch in the following at-bat against right fielder Phillip Sikes that advanced both runners into scoring position, but rebounded nicely, striking out the TCU slugger, who went 0-for-4 on the day, on a 1-2 pitch before inducing a flyball that was caught in left field and sealed Texas’ win.
On Saturday, the roles were reversed, with TCU thwarting a Texas rally in a 2-1 win. The Horned Frogs scored both of their runs on a base hit by designated hitter Porter Brown that scored runners from second and third with two outs in the second inning. It was enough to earn the victory as Texas scored its only run in the third on a throwing error by TCU center fielder Elijah Nunez that allowed Antico, tagging from second, to score on the play.
Though TCU starter Austin Krob allowed six hits and four walks through 5.2 innings of work, he moved to 7-0 on the year. The Horned Frog bullpen was on-point through the final 3.1 innings, as Marcelo Perez and Haylen Green combined to allow three hits and three walks.
Texas had a chance to win the contest in the top of the ninth, as two hits put runners on first and second with two outs and first baseman Zach Zubia stepping to the plate. Zubia entered the at-bat 0-for-3 on the afternoon, but had gone 2-for-5 in the series opener. TCU’s Green fought through a tough seven-pitch at-bat to strike out Zubia and seal the deal for the Horned Frogs with a one-run win.
As close as Friday and Saturday’s contests were, Sunday was a polar opposite, with Texas scoring four runs in the first three innings in a one-sided affair.
That was in large part due to the pitching of Pete Hansen. The left-hander made his first weekend start of the year after firing 7.2 innings of flawless relief against Texas Tech last Sunday. One week later, Hansen took to the hill again, and had little trouble against the potent TCU bats, firing 7.0 scoreless innings. The southpaw moved to 6-1 on the season, allowing three walks and two hits, striking out four.
The Texas bullpen did have trouble closing out the game, as Pierce used four pitchers over the final two innings, with Drew Shifflet allowing a three-run homer in the ninth off the bat of pinch hitter Bobby Goodloe for the Horned Frogs only runs of the contest.
The Longhorns were also helped by three home runs on the day, two of which came from Zubia, who went 3-for-5 on the day with four RBI.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't upset about yesterday," Zubia said on the radio following Sunday's win. "We had a lot of opportunities but we didn't come through there at the very end. This win was amazing. Coming in here, and winning a series against a top-five team, you can't beat that.
"I think we did a good job of staying within ourselves and not trying to do too much in a game that truly mattered."
While the series win did not give Texas the lead in the conference standings, it put the visitors from Austin in a good position heading into their final Big 12 series at home against West Virginia May 20-22. Pierce also noted on Sunday that defeating a top-five opponent on the road is sure to boost Texas’ NCAA tournament resume, and said he feels his team’s resume “is as good as anybody’s in the country.”
"We've taken care of business, we're in a good spot right now," Pierce said on the radio following Sunday's win. "I feel really confident about what's going to happen this week and how they select all the stuff. I'm proud of our kids, and (we) kind of keep that big picture to ourselves, but at the same time, (we) understand what we play for. We're still a game back, but at the same time, we still have an opportunity to win our first championship."
TCU’s midweek contest against UTRGV, scheduled for May 11, has been canceled, so TCU will return to action with a three-game, non-conference series against ULM next weekend. The Horned Frogs close out conference play at Kansas State the following weekend. Though sixth in the Big 12 standings, Kansas State took two of three from Texas Tech in a series that spanned from April 1-3.