Longhorns secure first road series victory in Red River Rivalry

Shane Lewis

For the Longhorns, it appeared their road woes had traveled with them to Norman, Oklahoma. In Friday’s series opener against the Sooners, the Longhorns trailed by two runs heading into the ninth inning. After trailing for the entirety of the game, Texas had three outs to muster at least two runs to extend the game.

But then, Masen Hibbeler happened. With Texas already tacking on a run in the inning, the junior infielder knocked in a clutch two-run RBI double that gave the Longhorns a 7-6 advantage. After holding off Oklahoma in the bottom of the frame, Texas did something it hadn’t done all year — win a series road opener.

The dramatic victory setup a successful weekend for the Longhorns. The team took two out of three against their rival and won its first road series of the year. With the series win, Texas now sits only one game back in the loss column of the conference-leading Sooners.

On Saturday night, it was the comeback kids at it again. The Sooners jumped on Texas and junior pitcher Chase Shugart in the first inning, scoring three quick runs.

But the Longhorns again refused to be deterred by an early deficit. A solo shot from junior infielder Kody Clemens punctuated a Texas rally that tied up the contest at three by the fifth inning.

In the eighth inning, freshman designated hitter Zach Zubia completed the comeback. The freshman hammered a two-run home run to left field, giving the Longhorns a 5-3 lead they would hold for the rest of the contest.

The home runs from Zubia and Clemens give them a combined 19 on the season. The rest of the Texas roster has combined for 13.

In a season of strong showings, midseason All-American Clemens may have had his best outing in the victory. The infielder went 4-for-4 and knocked in his team-leading 37th RBI of the season.

“(Clemens) is unbelievable because he has so much confidence in himself and he feels like he can conquer the world when he’s in the batter’s box,” head coach David Pierce said. “That’s a great feeling as a hitter.”

After the three-run first inning, Shugart settled down to throw four scoreless innings. In a rare appearance out of the bullpen, junior pitcher Nolan Kingham came into the contest to hold Oklahoma in check. The righty struck out six batters over the game’s final four innings.

Shugart said the competitiveness between him and Kingham, usually a starter, has improved them both.

“I’m still trying to beat (the other starters) in what they do and they’re trying to beat me and what I do,” Shugart said. “That inter-competition between us has really helped us out.”

While the first two games of the three-game slate were characterized by comeback Texas victories, the Longhorns fell flat in the series finale. The Sooners ran out to an early advantage, and this time, there was no magic left in Texas as Oklahoma cruised to a 6-0 victory.

Sophomore pitcher Blair Henley struggled in his start. Henley was rocked to the tune of nine hits and four earned runs in only 4.1 innings. In his first five starts of the season, Henley had only allowed a combined six runs — over his past five appearances, the sophomore has allowed 14.

While the weekend as a whole has to be considered a success, the short stint from Henley epitomizes an area of concern for the Longhorns.

“The goal of our starting pitchers is a minimum of seven innings,” Pierce said. “When we start putting guys in a different role earlier, then we change the entire scope of the bullpen for that day.”

The Longhorns return to action when they host UT-Rio Grande Valley at 7 p.m. Tuesday night.