Clemens walks off in spectacular fashion, Texas closes in on Big 12 title

Travis Hlavinka

With a conference championship hanging in the balance, junior second baseman Kody Clemens stepped up to the plate.

In the bottom of the ninth, Ellis showed up in a big way once again. With two outs, he hit a hard grounder to first and beat out a tough play with what may have been the most important hustle play from the team all season.

“Duke’s a threat if he gets a ball in play at all,” redshirt junior closer Andy McGuire said. “He always gives 110 percent down the line. A lot of guys are rolling over to first base and thinking they’re out automatically. It’s one of those things you don’t really think about when you look back. But if he doesn’t do his job at a time where it could’ve been easy for him to put his head down and go play defense, he’s a guy that busts his ass and gave us a chance.”

With sophomore outfielder Duke Ellis on base, one of the country’s most dangerous hitters had his opportunity and ran with it. In a storybook ending, Clemens, who has lead the team all year, hit the season’s most terrific and critical walk-off home run in front of the year’s largest crowd to give Texas a 5-3 victory over TCU.

“It’s the best,” Clemens said. “This is what you dream about while you’re playing baseball. This is where you want to win the game. You go into your backyard and say, ‘Bottom of the ninth, two outs, tie game. Two strikes.’ It’s unbelievable. I’m just happy I could do it for these guys.”

Going into Friday’s match-up, Texas was a game behind Oklahoma State in the race for a conference championship, and desperately needed a win or an Oklahoma State loss just to keep pace for a shot at a conference championship split. They got both. And the Longhorns now control their own destiny with one more regular season game against TCU on Saturday afternoon.

“We just continue to play the right way,” head coach David Pierce said. “Every game is so special, but when you’re always working for the chance to play for a championship, that’s what we’re doing. And they’ve had to earn it. They just keep grinding. Nothing’s been easy for them.”

Early in the ball game, the outcome looked questionable. Junior starting pitcher Chase Shugart spotted TCU three runs, partly due to an untimely error by sophomore shortstop David Hamilton. After the first inning, though, Shugart locked in and went for five complete innings and only allowed one earned run on four hits.

“I didn’t say a word to (Shugart) after the first,” Pierce said. “I knew we needed him. After the third I think went to him and said, ‘Look, I don’t make pitching changes always because of results. A lot of times you could have great results and still not throw the ball well.’ So we had that discussion in the third inning and surely he stepped up and got it done.”

Texas will now do everything in its power to secure a Saturday victory at the Disch. First pitch is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.