Melendez launches 30th home run, Texas advances to Super Regionals with win over Air Force

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.

Hunter Dworaczyk, Sports Reporter

Add another accolade to Texas slugger Ivan Melendez’s award-winning season. The redshirt junior first baseman is the first college player to hit 30 home runs in a single season since San Diego’s Kris Bryant in 2013. 

Melendez’s two-run home run in his first plate appearance opened an offensive onslaught that led to a five-run first inning against Air Force starter Stevan Fairburn Jr. The rest of Sunday evening brought more of the same as Texas cruised to a 10–1 victory, advancing the Longhorns to the Super Regionals after three-straight victories at UFCU Disch-Falk Field this weekend.

“Regional champs is something pretty special. We don’t take that for granted,” head coach David Pierce said. “To be able to come in and play well in front of our crowd and finish it like today was pretty special.”

In addition to Melendez’s power, sophomore outfielder Dylan Campbell also had a career day for Texas’ offense, drawing two walks and smashing two home runs against Air Force. Despite recording only three hits over the course of the weekend, all three of them were home runs.

“We always talk about (how) if someone asks you if you’re going to hit a home run, you just say ‘If I get the pitch to,’” Campbell said. “Tonight I got a couple of good ones, but I never really tried to do that. It’s just how it turned out.”

Despite Pierce placing Sunday’s contest in the hands of the bullpen, the Texas pitching staff provided its most dominant outing of the Austin Regional. Led by a three-inning start from redshirt freshman pitcher Travis Sthele, who is typically a reliever, the Longhorns held the high-powered Air Force offense to just one run.

“We’re still trying to build some guys, and it sounds crazy,” Pierce said. “We’re in the regionals trying to build guys, but there’s inexperience there.”

The pitching combination of Sthele, redshirt sophomore Jared Southard and redshirt freshmen Andre Duplantier II and Lebarron Johnson Jr. held the Air Force offense to just six hits on the night. After being held scoreless through eight innings, designated hitter Braydon Altorfer launched a solo shot in the ninth to get Air Force its lone run of the game.

Southard, who credits a trip to his old high school as an inspiration and a point of recommitment, recorded a career-high six strikeouts against Air Force. Southard also went three complete innings, his longest outing as a Longhorn.

“We’ve been through a lot as a bullpen and a lot of things fall on us,” Southard said. “We know if we’re going to keep going in the postseason, we’re going to have to step up. That’s what we’ve done so far, and we’re going to keep going with it.”

The Longhorns will meet the winner of Monday afternoon’s Greenville Regional final between East Carolina and Coastal Carolina next weekend in a best-of-three series for a spot in the College World Series.

“I think all of the calluses that we’ve built throughout the year have paid dividends,” Pierce said. “We’re not there yet. We’re trying to get better every day.”