No. 2 Texas baseball on the rise despite March growing pains

Texas+batter+Ivan+Melendez+hits+a+ground+ball+against+Rice+at+UTs+UFCU+Disch-Falk+Field+on+Feb.+26%2C+2022.+Melendez+was+named+2021+First-Team+All+Big+12+Designated+Hitter+and+All+College+World+Series+honors+during+his+first+season+as+a+Longhorn+redshirt+sophomore.

Mike Truong/The Daily Texan

Texas batter Ivan Melendez hits a ground ball against Rice at UT’s UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Feb. 26, 2022. Melendez was named 2021 First-Team All Big 12 Designated Hitter and All College World Series honors during his first season as a Longhorn redshirt sophomore.

Jordan Mitchell, Senior Sports Reporter

For No. 2 Texas baseball, the month of March has been a struggle.

Despite the Longhorns kicking off their March campaign as the No. 1 team in the nation with dominating wins over Sam Houston, Tennessee and No. 7 LSU, Texas has dropped five total games, including three over the spring break in South Carolina. 

Texas has also lost Tanner Witt, sophomore Sunday starting pitcher, after Texas’ medical staff determined the right hander required Tommy John reconstruction surgery.

However, Longhorn baseball fans shouldn’t worry about their Omaha expectations for the season after the program’s turbulent month. 

Replacing Witt on the mound is sophomore Lucas Gordon, who is finding his groove after lackluster losses on the road against UCLA and South Carolina. In those starts, Gordon allowed four runs in his 7.1 innings pitched in comparison to Witt’s two runs in 11 innings.

In his most recent showing against Incarnate Word, the lefty dished out a mere 80 pitches in seven shutout innings, striking out a quartet of batters and forcing ten groundouts. 

Like redshirt sophomore Pete Hansen and redshirt senior Tristan Stevens, the sophomore’s fellow weekend starting pitchers, Gordon is becoming comfortable pitching to contact for easy putouts with his three-pitch arsenal. 

In addition to addressing concerns on the mound, head coach David Pierce has worked out the kinks in the batting lineup. 

After the Miami Marlins drafted power hitter Zach Zubia in the 2021 draft, redshirt junior Ivan Melendez took over the three hole, leaving a vacancy at cleanup. 

In the first weekend series of the season, Pierce tried out sophomore Mitchell Daly in the four hole after recording a .316 batting average in 2021, despite being more of a contact hitter than a power at-bat. However, Daly began the season batting .213, which prompted Pierce to try redshirt senior Murphy Stehly at protecting Melendez in the lineup.

Stehly has been unstoppable this year, hitting .443 with five home runs and 22 RBIs, mashing three of those home runs in Sunday’s match against Incarnate Word. 

Pierce says Stehly works hard behind the scenes to improve his bat, emerging as a leader for Texas that pushes his teammates to better themselves.

“(Stehly is the) first guy in the building and last guy out,” Pierce said. “(He’s) an older player that really allows younger players to realize where he was when he came in, and the success he’s had because of his work and his routines.”

With Texas balanced in the batting lineup, the Longhorns are driving in 49% of their runs with two outs, flustering opposing pitchers.

“It’s a backbreaker for the opposing team,” Pierce said. “I think it’s critical for confidence that no matter what the score is, the inning isn’t over until the third out.”

With March close to concluding, the Longhorns have a new identity as a hardy team with hot bats and poised pitchers headed into conference play in Lubbock this weekend. And while the tail end of March is no easier for Texas, Gordon believes his team has momentum.

“I think some of the reason that we went to South Carolina was to prepare for this,” Gordon said. “Coming back knowing what it’s like to play that many games on the road, I think we’re ready.”