No. 1 Texas baseball falls for first time this season after strong start

Redshirt+senior+Tristian+Stevens+throws+a+pitch+during+the+Alumni+game+on+February+5.

Jonathan Sherchand/The Daily Texan

Redshirt senior Tristian Stevens throws a pitch during the Alumni game on February 5.

Jordan Mitchell, Sports Reporter

Texas baseball made the trip down Highway 290 for the 2022 Shriners Children’s College Classic at Minute Maid Park this weekend, and the No. 1 Longhorns made the Major League ballpark its home-away-from-home in the classic early-season event.

Playing on the Houston Astros’ home field is tough for any team; the seating boxes and pillars ricochet batted balls across the outfield, and the short-porched Crawford Boxes in left field make for an enticing home run target for right-handed batters.

On Saturday, Texas faced off against LSU in front of a crowd of over 24,000, just a few thousand less than the all-time attendance record for the College World Series.

Against the Tigers, redshirt sophomore Silas Ardoin’s double to the center field wall got Texas’ offense going. From there, the Longhorns put up six runs against the Tigers in a statement win.

In addition, Texas’ 7-2 win over No. 17 Tennessee on Friday showed the Longhorns could hang with some of the SEC’s best. The Longhorns scored on fielding errors and walks while the pitching staff played hard-nosed on the mound, pounding the zone with strikes for a total of 17 hits allowed over the source of both games.

Pivotal to the effort was redshirt senior Tristan Stevens, who dished out 100 pitches for only five hits and no runs in front of 24,787 fans.

“The crowd was awesome, and the atmosphere was something you dream about as a kid,” Stevens said to the Houston Chronicle. “So to come out and compete like that against another prestigious program like LSU, it was everything I wanted.”

But the Longhorns wouldn’t leave Houston unscathed.

Ahead of Sunday’s matchup against UCLA, head coach David Pierce announced that he would not start sophomore pitcher Tanner Witt as a precaution against irritating a tender muscle above his elbow.

“(After) talking to him yesterday, he felt like when he maxed out he had good tolerance,” Pierce said to Baseball America. “I didn’t feel like he had 100% and he’s just too early to risk, so we scratched him.”

Witt wasn’t the only surprise scratch from the starting lineup. Sophomore cleanup hitter Mitchell Daly was relieved of his second base duties after a lackluster weekend in Houston, walking twice and getting struck out four times.

Shaking things up, Pierce placed catcher Ardoin in the four-hole as the designated hitter, while sophomore Texas A&M transfer Kimble Schuessler started behind the plate and redshirt senior Murphy Stehly played at second.

The lineup changes proved detrimental for the Longhorns. While sophomore Lucas Gordon and the bullpen could not keep the Bruin batters at bay, Schuessler struggled to throw out base stealers.

In addition to defensive trouble, Texas’ bats struggled against pitcher Kelly Austin’s meticulous cutters and sliders, which yielded eight strikeouts and a single walk in his 5.1 innings pitched.

The one run scored against UCLA was a moonshot from redshirt junior Ivan Melendez in the fourth inning, which landed above Minute Maid’s train tracks running above left field seating.

Twelve games into the season, the Longhorns have proved they can be dominant in future SEC conference play. With wins against bluebloods Tennessee and LSU in addition to the sweep of Alabama, Texas is 5-0 against the SEC this season.

However, the loss to UCLA is a reminder that no team is immortal.

The 5-1 loss to the Bruins brings the Longhorns to 11-1 on the season. Texas remains atop of the national rankings, and the team takes on 10-2 Texas State in a home-and-home midweek series Tuesday and Wednesday.