Joe Baker

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas finished a historic run to the Big 12 championship game with a 6–3 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys at ONEOK Field in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sunday.

The Longhorns, who finished the Big 12 regular season in fifth place with a 2625 overall record, rode the backs of their pitchers to the championship game. Texas got three consecutive complete games from pitchers — senior Parker French, junior Ty Culbreth and freshman Connor Mayes.

Texas saw Sunday’s starting pitcher, right-handed freshman Kyle Johnston, pick up where the other three left off. Johnston threw five innings of one-hit ball before getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

“All of the four starters did an excellent job of getting their outs on time,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “[The pitchers were] pitching to contact, pitching without fear, showing a purpose on the mound, trusting their teammates behind them and going about their business of playing baseball.”

The Longhorns scored the first run of the game in the third inning. Junior left fielder Ben Johnson hit a one-out single and moved over to second on freshman shortstop Joe Baker's sacrifice bunt. Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa hit an RBI single to center to bring Johnson home and gave Texas a 1–0 lead.

Johnston kept the Cowboys offense shut-down until the sixth inning, in which he issued a one-out walk to freshman infielder Jacob Chappell.  The Cowboys followed the walk with a single from senior outfielder Gage Green. Oklahoma State tied the game on an RBI single by junior outfielder Corey Hassel.

The Cowboys continued their offensive push in the seventh inning. French came into the ballgame to relieve Johnston, as Oklahoma State loaded the bases. The Cowboys were able to score a run and take a 2–1 lead, but French was able to get the Longhorns out of the inning only down one.   

Down a run, the Longhorns offense exploded in the eighth inning. Texas took advantage of three errors and scored five runs on two hits to give it a 6–2 lead.

But Oklahoma State would try to rally in the bottom frame as it loaded the bases in the eighth. The Cowboys were able to score a run, but the Longhorns got off the inning 6–3.

Texas called upon senior left handed pitcher Kirby Bellow to finish the eighth and ninth innings and secure its fifth Big 12 Tournament Championship.    

“I just went out there and trusted myself and focused on the glove and didn't worry about the runners,” Bellow said. “I just went out there and tried to do my job.

Sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Gurwitz had two hits and two RBIs in the championship game.

While he earned the tournament’s highest honor, Gurwitz was quick to acknowledge his teammates efforts throughout the tournament.

I have the easy part,” Gurwitz said. “My teammates in the eighth inning they got the bases loaded for me, they tied the game. All I had to do was put the ball in play, and I found a hole.”

Gurwitz, French and Mayes were named to all-tournament team alongside sophomore catcher Tres Barrera, senior second baseman Brooks Marlow, freshman third baseman Bret Boswell and Baker. 

WACO — Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa hasn’t been the same since he fractured his hand against TCU on April 25.

Since that series, Hinojosa is two-for-10 and zero RBIs. But, Saturday, he broke out of that slump. With the Longhorns trailing 6-5 in the top of the ninth, Hinojosa turned on an 0-2 pitch, lifting it to center just past the outstretched hand of center fielder Logan Brown and over the wall for a home run — his second of the game — to tie the game.

Five pitches later, sophomore first baseman Tres Barrera drilled a solo shot onto the soccer field beyond the left field wall to give Texas a 6-5 win over Baylor.

“Coming back being down a run it’s good for our team,” Hinojosa said. “It shows character we have to not really worry about what’s going on and go out there and play our game.”

After not playing for almost two weeks, Texas (25-24, 10-12 Big 12) got a fast start out of the gate. Freshman designated hitter Joe Baker led off the game with a single then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt and wild pitch. Hinojosa put the Longhorns ahead a couple of pitches later with a single to left to score Baker.

After Baylor (20-29, 8-14) tied it on a solo home run, senior right fielder Collin Shaw and Hinojosa hit back-to-back home runs to put Texas back ahead 3-1.

But, in the fifth, the bats ran cold and the defense struggled.

Baylor led off the inning with two bunt singles and senior second baseman Brooks Marlow bobbled the ball to load the bases. Right fielder Adam Toth gave Baylor the lead with a single to right that scored three runs after Hinojosa struggled with the ball trying to tag Toth out at second.

Texas then committed two more errors trying to catch catcher Darren Sheppard stealing as Marlow missed the ball and center fielder Zane Gurwitz booted the ball to allow Sheppard to get to third. Sheppard then scored on an RBI single a batter later to take a 5-3 lead.

But the Longhorns’ rally then began in the eighth. With two outs and runners at first and second, Baker singled to left to score sophomore right fielder Jake McKenzie to cut the deficit to 5-4, setting up the comeback in the ninth.

Hinojosa, who nearly doubled his season home run total with his two shots, said the 13-day layoff helped them get back on track mentally.

“We came back with a clear head and started the season all over again basically,” Hinojosa said. “But we were ready to get back to work.”

Texas is locked into the Big 12 tournament, which the Longhorns will need to win to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years. 

Texas and Baylor will finish off the series with a doubleheader on Sunday. The first game will start a 1 p.m. with the second scheduled for 5 p.m. 

Texas Tech sophomore Stephen Smith, left, and freshman shortstop Joe Baker have to be separated in a contentious match Sunday.
Photo Credit: Joshua Guerra | Daily Texan Staff

Late in the ninth inning Sunday, Texas Tech sophomore Stephen Smith slid hard into freshman shortstop Joe Baker. As the two barked at each other, the Texas bench ran on to the field in a rare sign of emotion for the Longhorns.

“It’s just baseball,” sophomore catcher Tres Barrera said. “We’re just sticking up for our teammate. We saw a guy went in hard. You just got to back up your guy at all times, no matter what the score is.”

The move, about protection, was equally the result of raw emotion spilling onto the field as the Texas season hung in the balance. In a must-win game, Texas faltered to Texas Tech, 5–1, in a decisive series finale, just as it has done most of this season. The Red Raiders took the series with a 2-1 advantage. 

“It’s like going to the same movie over and over again,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “We continue not to take quality at-bats with runners in scoring position. When we have opportunities to score runs, we fail offensively to take our walks and sustain the rally that we need.”

Garrido said the team entered the weekend with the hope of sneaking into the NCAA Tournament. But the Longhorns flew off the radar in front of 6,284 faithful fans Sunday as a two-run home run by Texas Tech freshman shortstop Orlando Garcia sailed over the left-field wall in the fifth inning.

Despite recording eight hits, the Longhorns failed to produce any run-scoring drives as their only run came across on a walk. Texas played 24 innings of scoreless baseball over the weekend. It plated three runs in the fifth inning of Friday’s 3–0 win and one run in each of its losses.

“We haven’t capitalized when we needed to,” Barrera said. “We haven’t been able to put timely at-bats and timely hitting when we have runners in scoring position. That’s just the way it’s been.”

Texas has a .500 record and has failed to win back-to-back Big 12 games since late March. The team also dropped three mid-week games this season against UT-Arlington, Texas A&M–Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State. The Longhorns’ struggles started in early March when the team dropped a doubleheader against San Diego.  

“We had a lot of success, a lot of fight and a lot of expectations,” Garrido said. “I think when we lost the first three-game weekend, we started to feel differently about their ability to come back and win the game. We’ve had problem with RBIs.”

The Longhorns offense started off hot but quelled as the season grew. Texas put plenty of runners on base — as it did against the Red Raiders — but failed to bring home many runs. The biggest issue that hurt the Longhorns was their focus on their batting average, Garrido said.

“We became one dimensional; we only had one goal,” Garrido said. “Anybody who’s been around baseball for a long time … they know that the biggest demon of all the ones that are around is batting average.”

With four games left in the regular season, the team’s postseason hopes likely ride on winning the Big 12 Championship, a shock considering Garrido called this team as good as the 2005 national championship team earlier this season. 

Despite all the negativity surrounding this season, the players still believe a comeback is possible, according to freshman pitcher Connor Mayes.

“[The batters] are staying with it and going through the process that coach talks about, and that’s all we can do,” Mayes said. “We might be unlucky, but we just got to stay with it.” 

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

After a three-hit, one-RBI night earlier this month, freshman shortstop Joe Baker found himself in the middle of  his first media scrum, where he was given a surprising nickname.

Despite only recording three RBIs so far in his freshman campaign, he was dubbed “the RBI maker,” a name that, at the time, didn’t quite fit.

“This is a great opportunity,” Baker said. “To be at The University of Texas — it’s an honor to be here. But I like that name.”

Baker, a native of McKinney, lived up to his moniker Sunday against Kansas as he hit his first collegiate home run and finished with a team-high four RBIs.

While he earned his nickname because of his offensive performance, his defense has kept him on the field. Baker has completed numerous highlight plays for outs at shortstop.

Baker made a sliding grab against Wichita State, diving toward third base and making a long throw to first to get the out. The play was even featured on SportsCenter as the No. 6 play of the day.

He has become a successful addition to the Texas starting lineup, and his teammates have taken notice.

“All of these guys are hard workers like Joe,” senior second baseman Brooks Marlow said. “Joe is coming in at a tough spot playing shortstop. Joe is playing so hard right now. He’s getting the job done right now. I’m proud of Joe.”

Before coming to Texas, Baker missed his senior season of high school because of an injury. But during his junior season, he hit .383 with 17 RBIs and 18 stolen bases for the McKinney Lions. Baker was named to the All-District 10-5A second team as a sophomore and a freshman.

Baker’s breakout year comes as the Longhorns struggle to find their way out of a slump. Before defeating Kansas, 16–7, and securing its first three-game series victory since March 22, Texas had lost three-straight weekend series and 11 out of its last 15. He’s currently hitting .262 with 16 hits and 8 RBIs.

“Joe Baker, at shortstop, [is] another bright spot,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “Some great plays by Baker. There are individual performances that are really good. We have good players, but they’re not able to extend the rallies.”

Texas (20–18, 8–7 Big 12) hopes its series win against Kansas can fuel a late-season rally. The Longhorns also hope Baker continues to live up to his nickname and keep up his defensive performance when they take on Texas State on Tuesday.

“We have to pick each other up,” Baker said. “No matter what coach says where to go, we just do our job.”

Texas beat the Bobcats, 6–4, in their first meeting in San Marcos on March 24. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday  at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Freshman catcher Michael Cantu has made his presence known behind the plate, throwing out seven would-be baserunners this season.
Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Trying to steal a base against freshman catcher Michael Cantu isn’t an easy task.

The feat proved especially challenging Saturday, as Cantu displayed his defensive prowess against Oklahoma. In the sixth inning, a Sooner runner tried to steal second, but the freshman made a phenomenal off-balanced throw from his knees to senior second baseman Brooks Marlow for an inning-ending out. He followed that with another equally impressive throw from his knees to freshman shortstop Joe Baker later in the game.

“Cantu did a great job throwing people out at the plate,” sophomore pitcher Kacy Clemens said after the game.

Cantu, a Corpus Christi native, has thrown out seven runners attempting to steal on him this season. He’s hitting .265 on the season and is tied for third in the Big 12 in walks with 25. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound catcher has been a bright spot throughout the season — especially when the team overall is struggling.

Although Texas dropped two out of three against the Sooners, Cantu hit .500 and drew three walks. Head coach Augie Garrido said he was impressed with Cantu’s play.

“He threw out every runner that tried to run on him,” Garrido said. “He was a very mature baseball player. If we could get everybody particularly on offense competing the way he competes — they certainly have a leader and a model to follow in him.”

Cantu came to the team with high accolades. Before coming to college, he was ranked the No. 1 catcher in the state by Perfect Game USA. Perfect Game USA also named him an underclass second-team All-American in 2013 and a third-team All-American in 2014. The Texas Sports Writers Association named him a first-team all-state catcher in 2013 and second-team in 2014. Cantu was also drafted by Chicago Cubs in the 30th round in 2014.

Cantu has proven himself with his confident play from behind the plate. Cantu said that confidence comes from his trust in himself and his baseball ability.

“You got to be confident,” Cantu said. “I was always told that there’s no age in baseball. It doesn’t matter. If you can play, you can play. That’s the big thing: You got to have confidence and trust yourself and trust that what you’ve been doing that’s got you here will keep you going.”

Although he isn’t shy about his skill, Cantu also is quick to mention his teammates and throw the spotlight off himself.

“I’ve just been trusting myself and having confidence in my teammates,” Cantu said. “I threw a guy out that Joe [Baker] caught [against Oklahoma]. The ball was up the line, and he made a great play on it. It’s just trust in ourselves and trusting our defense.”

Texas (19–18, 6–6 Big 12) hopes to live up to that trust as they continue to battle through recent struggles.

Cantu and the Longhorns will try to break out of their slump in a three-game series against Kansas starting Friday at 6 p.m. in Lawrence, Kansas.

Freshman pitcher Connor Mayes got a pair of big outs to help Texas escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and propel Texas to its first win since March 22.
Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Texas was in desperate need of win when the Shockers loaded the bases late in the game with one out. 

Freshman pitcher Connor Mayes was on the mound as the Longhorns (18–15, 5–4 Big 12) clung to a one-run lead. 

But, with a shallow fly and a groundout, Mayes came up big as Texas finally ended its seven-game skid with a 6–4 win over Wichita State on Tuesday night.

“It’s great for something to go right for us, especially after the past couple of weekends,” second baseman Brooks Marlow said. “I think it’s just a step forward for us and it’s going to make us that much better.”

The Texas offense had struggled over the seven-game losing streak, but it came up big against the Shockers.

“It was important to see the team much more relaxed,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “We looked much better tonight as a team.”

The Longhorns struck early, taking their first opening-frame lead since their series finale against Kansas State on March 22.

In the opening frame, freshman shortstop Joe Baker led off with a walk, which was followed by a Shocker error on a sacrifice bunt that allowed senior second baseman Brooks Marlow to reach first safely. Baker came around to score on an RBI fielder’s choice by junior left fielder Ben Johnson. 

Texas added another run on a double by sophomore third baseman C.J Hinojosa.

The offense continued its early onslaught in the second inning. Sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz began the Longhorn threat with a one-out walk, Baker followed with a single to put runners on the corners, and Marlow pushed the Texas lead to 3–0 with an RBI single. Sophomore catcher Tres Barrera extended the lead to 4–0 with a  sacrifice fly.

The Shockers fought back in the fourth, when freshman designated hitter Gunnar Troutwine hit an RBI double to cut the Texas lead to 4–2.

But Texas answered in the bottom of the frame as Marlow recorded another RBI single to put Texas up 5-2.

A two-run Wichita State homer in the fifth cut the deficit to one.

After the Shocker homer, both offenses went cold until Wichita State loaded the bases in the eighth.

Texas added an insurance run in the ninth on Baker’s third hit of the game.

Senior reliever Ty Culdreth closed the game out in the ninth and secured their first win since March 24. Freshman pitcher Jake McKenzie, who came on in relief in the fourth for sophomore starter Josh Sawyer, picked up the win.

“The best part of today was just getting that win,” Baker said. “We really needed that to finally get that first win out of the way and get that streak ended. It was a good win.”

Correction: Due to an editing mistake, an earlier version of this story had Ty Marlow, instead of Ty Culdreth, closing out the game in the ninth inning.