Stafford’s impressive performance on the mound proved how deep Texas’ pitching staff is this season

Austin Ries

There was nothing memorable about Sam Stafford’s first and only inning on the mound this season before Tuesday’s start against Rice. No pre-game excitement or adrenaline rush when he got the word he would be starting. No revelation that Texas has yet another pitcher to add to their already impressive staff they knew had potential but hadn’t seen yet.

In his first time on the mound a few weeks ago, Stafford threw a scoreless and hitless inning during the Horns’ 18-0 beat down against Iowa by getting a ground out, a walked batter and finally a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.

He was effective. He was solid. But he wasn’t perfect like he was Tuesday night against Rice.

In his first start at Texas, Stafford was dominant from the first pitch, wielding both his fastball and curveball with solid command, and power to sit down all nine Rice batters he faced, getting five ground-ball outs, two-fly outs and one strikeout with only 41 pitches in Texas’ 5-1 win.

The sophomore from Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas, was recruited by both Texas and Rice.

Unfortunately for head coach Wayne Graham and the Owls, Stafford chose Texas.

“He’s got a great arm,” Graham said. “We recruited him, we just didn’t get him.”

Stafford threw only three innings before being relieved by four other Longhorn pitchers, ending with Chance Ruffin’s 3.1 innings to rack up his fourth win
of the season.

Texas head coach Augie Garrido went into the game prepared to use as many relievers as needed, knowing he was only going to throw Stafford two, maybe three innings to build his confidence in his first start.

“Sam has been working for that since last summer,” Garrido said. “We pretty much had it mapped out for him to establish his confidence one time around and he did brilliant. If you push the envelope there is a tendency for it to unravel and you defeat what you are trying to accomplish.”

Stafford threw 12 pitches in the first inning by throwing his breaking ball for strikes and sneaking his fastball past Owl batters. He got first baseman Jimmy Comerota to ground out to first, struck out left fielder Michael Fuda and got designated hitter Jeremy Rathjen to ground out to Brandon Loy
at shortstop.

“I felt really comfortable with my warm-up pitches when I came to the field,” Stafford said.

Austin Dicharry, Hoby Milner and Stayton Thomas combined for 2.2 innings before Ruffin came in to shut the door in another one of his
extended outings.

“Ruffin is brilliant and is just that J. Brent Cox, Houston Street UT closer we’ve been blessed with,” Garrido said. “It’s a combination of personality meets competitive skills, and he plays to win more than anybody.”

With Tuesday’s win, the Horns did more than win this season’s rivalry series against the Owls. They also discovered another potential starter and weapon as conference play starts to heat up.

“Our pitching staff is deep and has been wonderful all year,” Ruffin said. “To have another arm like [Sam] and add on the way he did is going to definitely help us.”