LUBBOCK, TX - Big XII conference action got into full swing this weekend and one of the premiere matchups around the country featured the Texas Longhorns traveling north to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock. Entering the weekend Tech had not lost a game at home this season.
Texas ace Pete Hansen was opposed by Andrew Morris to open the weekend on Friday night. Morris lasted through the sixth inning, allowing just a run, while Hansen took his exit after seven innings having allowed three runs. Neither would be a factor in the end of this one.
When the Red Raiders came to bat in the bottom of the eighth, they trailed 4-3. All seven runs had come from seven solo home runs; Easton Murrell, Jace Jung, and Hudson White for Texas Tech; Eric Kennedy, Ivan Melendez, Trey Faltine, and Skyler Messinger for Texas. Tech tied the game in the bottom of the inning on a routine sacrifice fly.
Neither team produced in the ninth, so the game went to extra innings. After a scoreless top half of the tenth, two Texas Tech batters were walked to lead off the inning. Two outs later, with runners on second and third, Tech shortstop Kurt Wilson broke into a sprint from third base and stole home without a throw to give Texas Tech the most unusual of walk off wins, 5-4.
Texas got out to a quick 2-0 lead in Saturday's first inning. Tech immediately responded with seven runs, chasing Longhorn ace Tristan Stevens from the game before he recorded an out. The score remained 7-2 into the fifth inning when Texas started to chip away at the five-run deficit with a two-run frame. Texas then tied the game with a three-run inning in the seventh.
Both teams scored four runs in the eighth inning to knot the game at eleven. After a scoreless ninth for both teams, the Longhorns grabbed a one run lead in the top of the tenth on a double by Douglas Hodo III.
The Red Raiders tied the game in the tenth on a fielder's choice before a walk to Jung loaded the bases and forced a Texas pitching change. A fielder’s choice led to an out at home plate for the second out of the inning and the bases were still loaded.
Wilson, the hero of Friday night, launched a 1-0 pitch over the right field wall for a grand slam walk off. The 16-12 victory gave the Red Raiders clinched the series for Tech.
For Texas, which pounded out twenty-one hits in the game, Melendez and Stehly practically mirrored each other in the game. Both were 5-for-5, both homered twice, and while Melendez had three RBI, Stehly had four RBI. Melendez has hit thirteen home runs this season, one of the tops in the country.
Because of the early exit from Stevens, Texas had to go to the bullpen early and often, they used a total of eight pitchers in the contest. The high-scoring affair also caused Tech to utilize their bullpen, though a little less often; they used six pitchers in the middle game.
Sunday’s game never felt the drama that Friday and Saturday provided.
A sacrifice fly RBI off the bat of Jung was the only Texas Tech run in the series finale, it came in the third inning to tie the game at one. Still tied in the fifth, Messinger and Mitchell Daly hit back-to-back solo home runs and the Longhorns added two more runs in the sixth to start to create some separation with a 5-1 lead.
The Longhorns were a long way from finished though, as they scored seven runs in the seventh, highlighted by a three-run blast from Faltine. Leading 12-1 at the conclusion of the seventh inning, the game ended because of the Big XII conference run rule for Sunday games.
Lucas Gordon got the win to improve his record to 2-1 and Texas head coach David Pierce spoke about Gordon before any offensive players after the game, “Lucas did a great job of just pitching to both sides of the plate and using his changeup when he needed it,” Pierce said.
Gordon has taken over the Sunday duties that belonged to Tanner Witt who is out after having season-ending Tommy John surgery. “I just can’t say enough about the kid stepping into that role,” Pierce said.
The Longhorns out-hit the Red Raiders 17-6 on Sunday in the seven-inning game that also ended the Red Raiders’ perfect home record to start the year.
The weekend series in Lubbock offered everything; a blowout, a one-run game, a walk-off home run, a walk-off steal of home, solo home runs galore, a grand slam, solid pitching in spots, spectacular defensive plays, especially in the outfield, and a 2-1 series win for the home team while the road team salvages one before heading back home.
The Big XII conference championship will be ultimately settled in Arlington, Texas in late May. Texas Tech showed a formula that can translate into challenging the Longhorns, but it will take pitching and timely hitting—not a big secret. The duo in the middle of the Texas lineup of Melendez and Stehly is as formidable a 1-2 punch as there is in the country, much less the conference, but as Saturday laid bare, the damage they can do means little if the bullpen does not record outs. Teams cannot count on chasing Stevens out of many games in the first inning, when he is on his game, he is a top starter in the country. And with Hansen and what looks to be a solid Gordon, that trio will be tough to overcome.
This weekend proved that it may all come down to bullpen arms and which team can actually record outs after the starting pitchers leave the game. A conference championship may hang in the balance for the team that accomplishes the feat.