Longhorns’ season ends in Big 12 semifinal against TCU

Michael Shapiro and Daniel Clay

Game 1: Texas wins on walk-off

All it took was one swing. With a ninth-inning solo moonshot over the center-field fence at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, freshman Kody Clemens kept Texas alive in the Big 12 tournament.

Clemens was mobbed by his teammates as he stomped on home plate to complete the 2-1 victory over TCU. The celebration signaled one thing: the Longhorns’ season was far from complete.

After seeing a deluge of runs in the Big 12 tournament’s first three games, Saturday’s contest was a pitcher’s duel. Taking the hill for the Longhorns was sophomore Connor Mayes, who entered the game winless on the season.

And while Mayes failed to secure his first victory of the season — rendering a no decision — he was masterful on the mound. The right-hander from Lake Travis struggled in the first inning, giving up one run on three hits, but quickly recovered.

Mayes went the next five innings without surrendering a run while throwing a season-high 110 pitches. Garrido’s heavy use of his bullpen earlier in the tournament necessitated a quality outing from Saturday’s starter — Mayes delivered just that.

The Longhorns failed to capitalize on Mayes’ brilliance, however, as they were shut down by a right-hander from the opposing dugout. Jared Janczak slowed down Texas’ attack, going six and one-third innings.

Janczak stranded five Longhorns on base, including three in scoring position. However, he couldn’t completely keep Texas off the scoreboard, as sophomore Jake McKenzie slapped a single up the middle in the fifth, scoring sophomore Bret Boswell.

The 1-1 stalemate held for three innings. After Mayes left the game following the sixth, Texas trotted out veteran bullpen specialist Travis Duke. The sophomore threw two innings of shutout ball, giving the Longhorns ample opportunity to take the lead.

Texas failed to take advantage of Duke’s strong outing. The Longhorns fell victim to some déjà vu in both the seventh and eighth innings, unable to plate a run after leadoff doubles in each frame.

But Texas’ inability to score with runners in scoring position wouldn’t matter. Clemens’ walk-off shot in the ninth gave the Longhorns their third consecutive Big 12 tournament win to keep their season alive.

Game 2: Longhorns’ season ends

Texas and TCU were locked in a duel. In the bottom of the fifth of the Big 12 tournament semifinal game, the score stood tight at 2-1 Longhorns.

Neither team had flinched.

Until freshman Luken Baker strode to the plate.

With one mighty swing of the bat, the 6-foot-4, 265-pound TCU designated hitter fired a mammoth three-run home run over the left-field wall to hand his team a 4-2 lead. The blast drained the last bit of fight out of Texas’ remarkable 2016 Big 12 tournament run; the Longhorns eventually fell 8-2.

“The end of the year for every team except one comes with a loss,” head coach Augie Garrido told 104.9 The Horn. “We lost, but we competed. All of the losses preceding it didn’t take away or break their spirit. I’m very proud of them for that and I’m proud of our coaches for that.”

Texas had overcome a five-run deficit a day before and scratched a walk-off win earlier in the afternoon. But the magic ran out after Baker’s blast.

The Longhorns needed their relievers to come up big after senior starter Ty Culbreth bowed out of the game after just 2.2 innings of work on just two days rest.

Yet the Horned Frogs continued to chip away at Texas’ beleaguered bullpen, adding a trio of runs against three different relievers in the sixth inning to jump out to a 7–2 lead. That advantage held safe in the hands of starter Brian Howard, who turned in six innings of two-run ball, and reliever Brian Trieglaff who held the Longhorns scoreless in three innings of relief.

The Texas offense that had exploded for nine runs in the eighth inning on Friday was unable to counter Baker’s home run. After five innings of offensive silence, a Zane Gurwitz double play lineout to first sealed an 8-2 loss and drew the Longhorns 2016 season to an unceremonious close.

“We competed throughout the tournament,” Garrido told The Horn. “What I’m happy about is that the players got rewarded for that. They got a taste of the good side of baseball and I hope that that serves them well as we get ready to go into next year.”