Bats come alive in eighth; gives team comeback win vs. Big 12 rival Texas Tech

Trey Scott

It took them longer than they may have liked, but the No. 6 Longhorns got just enough out of their offense in the weekend finale against Texas Tech, rallying back in the eighth inning to top the Red Raiders 3-1, giving Texas a 2-1 series victory.

Reliever Hoby Milner tossed a no-hit frame to begin the seminal eighth inning, and the Texas offense made sure not to squander the opportunity. Paul Montalbano started the rally in the bottom with a single to left field and then advanced to second on a Jordan Etier-sacrifice bunt. Lucas Kephart came in to the game as a pinch-hitter for Alex Silver and drew a walk on a full count, putting runners on first and second for Texas.

On the next pitch, Brandon Loy took matters into his own hands, lined a single to right field to score Montalbano and tie the game up at one apiece.

Tant Shepherd then registered his first hit of the game, hitting the first pitch he saw down the left-field line for a huge two-run triple, plating Loy and Tim Maitland, who was pinch-running for Kephart.

“The veteran leadership came through big time with Paul getting the leadoff single in the eighth, Etier moving him over, then Loy coming through, and Shepherd coming through with a big hit to separate the two teams,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido.

Loy began the game with a leadoff double to left field on an 0-2 pitch and then advanced to third on a productive Mark Payton groundout. But Shepherd struck out swinging, and Erich Weiss hit a slow roller to Tech pitcher Brennan Stewart, and Loy was left stranded at third, 90 feet away from the first run of the game.

Starting pitcher Sam Stafford pitched well in his first weekend start since the beginning of the season, giving up one run and striking out four in five innings of work.

“It was a huge game,” Stafford said. “You have to focus on doing your job and giving your team the best chance to win. If you take care of those things, a majority of the time, we’re going to win the ball game.”

Stafford was pulled after he walked Tech’s Kelby Tomlinson to start the sixth inning. Freshman Nathan Thornhill replaced him on the mound and finished the inning for Texas, striking out two. But the Longhorns couldn’t capitalize in the bottom of the frame, as Loy flied out to center, and Payton and Shepherd struck out.

The seventh inning came and went much the same way — solid pitching, this time from sophomore Milner, negated by poor offense, with Kevin Lusson grounding into a double play to end the inning.

Freshman closer Corey Knebel came on in the ninth and picked up his 11th save of the year, while the win went to Milner (4-2).

“The bullpen was what it needs to be for us to be consistent,” Garrido said. “We brought in Hoby, and he’s been valuable in these games. He gave us two innings, and we were able to get to Knebel, who did his thing.”

It wasn’t a perfect game for the slow-starting Longhorns, but it was enough to give Texas (27-9, 11-4 Big 12) its fourth series win over a conference opponent on the year, one against a quality opponent in Texas Tech (23-15, 6-9).

“To come back and find a way to get this done, it gives us some confidence,” Loy said. “This team has it. It’s all there; we just have to find a way to get it going earlier.”