Texas’ final matchup with Kansas came down to a matter of inches.
In the top of the eighth inning Sunday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Texas clung to a 5-3 advantage over Kansas. The Jayhawks loaded the bases with no outs, and the Longhorns appeared to be on the verge of blowing what was once a five-run lead.
Kansas hit a line-drive shot down the left-field line that appeared to score the game’s tying runs. But there was one problem — the umpire ruled the ball landed just outside the boundary.
The Longhorns capitalized on the break, leaned on their bullpen and got out of the inning allowing only run to help secure a 5-4 victory and a series sweep.
“That was the difference,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “We just continued to play after that, and Josh (Sawyer) made some big pitches for us.
In the early going, the game was far from a nail-biter.
Junior infielder Masen Hibbeler started the game with a bang. On the first pitch in the bottom of the opening frame, the leadoff hitter notched his first home run as a Longhorn.
Junior infielder Kody Clemens kept things rolling in the first for Texas. After a walk from sophomore outfielder Duke Ellis, Clemens smacked his team-leading sixth home run of the season over the right field fence.
The three-run first inning marked the fourth consecutive game the Longhorns have scored in the first frame.
“That’s something we talked about,” Hibbeler said. “We noticed that other teams were (scoring in the first inning). We got a little more aggressive, found our pitch and then our pitchers could relax and do their thing.”
The Longhorns tacked on runs in the fourth and fifth frames and looked to be cruising to a third straight victory. But the Jayhawks fought back. Kansas added a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh before the decisive eighth inning.
Junior pitchers Josh Sawyer and Beau Ridgeway came out of the pen to help the Longhorns escape the inning. In the ninth, junior pitcher Andy McGuire recorded his first-career save.
“I’m pretty amped up. That was awesome,” McGuire said. “Our bullpen made a big bounce back. Our bullpen has been kind of iffy over the past week. The bullpen coming in and doing their job is obviously where we need to be.”
The victory puts an exclamation point on a bounce-back weekend to open Big 12 play and ends a five-game losing streak.
“We had a brutal week last week,” Pierce said. “To regain confidence and come back home and open conference play with a sweep is huge. The conference is so tough and you want to try and win series at home and survive on the road.”
On Friday, the Longhorns enjoyed an explosive day at the plate to rock Kansas 14-4. Texas finished with 16 hits, four of which came from redshirt freshman designated hitter Zach Zubia.
Up 3-2 heading to the fourth, Texas used a five-run inning to put the game on ice. Zubia powered the inning, knocking in a pair of Longhorns with a single.
While the bats led the way on Friday, Saturday’s 4-0 blanking of Kansas was highlighted by a stellar showing from the Texas pitching staff. Sophomore pitcher Blair Henley allowed five hits over seven strong innings, striking out four batters in the process. Ridgeway sealed the shutout, retiring Kansas’ final six batters.
After the passing of former Texas head coach Augie Garrido on Thursday, Pierce said his team played inspired baseball against Kansas.
“We’ve had heavy hearts all week,” Pierce said. “When you’re able to go out and play the game right for a legend, for an icon, for a guy who’s played a huge role in building this program, it’s special.”
It’s a quick turnaround now for Texas, as the team prepares to host Sam Houston State on Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. The Bearcats come in as winners of nine straight.