Messinger’s 4 hits, 3 RBIs key to victory over Air Force in NCAA opener

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Jacob Levy/The Daily Texan

Senior Skyler Messinger hits a fastball at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on March 20, 2022. Messinger struggled on the field after transferring from Kansas, and is now emerging from his slump.

Hunter Dworaczyk, Sports Reporter

Few college baseball players have appeared in as many games as redshirt senior infielder Skyler Messinger.

The Longhorns’ matchup against Air Force at UFCU Disch-Falk Field marked Messinger’s 246th game, a number that puts him in the Top 5 among active players in the country in career games played. But Friday afternoon was the Kansas transfer’s first taste of the NCAA postseason. 

“I was pumped,” Messinger said. “Super excited to have this opportunity, but it’s just another game. So you want to come out, play hard and get the win.”

Messinger, who said after the game that he used to watch the NCAA postseason when he was at Kansas, looked comfortable in the new setting. The third baseman went 4-for-5 behind the plate, and his timely hitting was key in Texas’ 11-3 victory in the opening round of the Austin Regional.

In the third inning, a Messinger single broke a 2-2 tie. Then, in the fifth inning, Messinger’s third single of the game came with the bases loaded, giving the Longhorns a needed cushion and a 5-2 lead. 

“To be able to grab the right guys (from the transfer portal) and insert them has been pretty cool to watch,” head coach David Pierce said. “But Skyler (Messinger) has been what you saw today, no matter if he’s been successful or has had a poor day. He has been that guy since he got here.”

Sophomore Paul Skenes, known for his powerful fastball, got the start for Air Force on Friday and was expected to give the Texas offense difficulties. But two Air Force errors in the first inning led to two early runs for the Longhorns and an extended inning from Skenes. Texas forced Skenes to labor through lengthy at bats in the early innings, and in the fifth inning, the Air Force ace’s day was done after throwing 115 pitches and allowing three runs.

“If I could have drawn this game up, I would have drawn it up just like it happened,” Pierce said. 

In a media availability Thursday, Pierce said that there was “no doubt” that redshirt sophomore pitcher Pete Hansen would get the start on the mound in the opening game of the regional. The lefty gave Texas a strong outing against the Falcons, which could end up being his final start at the Disch.

While Hansen did not have to throw many high-leverage pitches Friday, he performed well when the game was tight. After putting the first two batters on base in the fifth inning with a one-run lead, Hansen retired the next three batters to escape the inning untouched. 

“I kind of got a little more locked in right there,” Hansen said. “Obviously (Air Force) is a good hitting team, so if I make a mistake, they’re going to jump on it. I live for those kinds of hype moments.”

With the victory, Texas moves into the winner’s bracket of the regional and will play the winner of the contest between Dallas Baptist and Louisiana Tech on Saturday night.