Texas baseballs wins Big 12 championship after West Virginia sweep

Evan Vieth, Senior Sports Reporter

After climbing itself out of a 4–7 start to the 2023 season, Texas baseball proved themselves worthy of the Big 12 title on Saturday night, defeating No. 6 West Virginia in a full sweep series.

Key players Jalin Flores, Jack O’Dowd and Jared Thomas turned a 6-4-3 double play to give the Longhorns their final win to conclude a comeback season of note.The trio that recorded the final outs of the regular season saw just 40 at-bats on last year’s team, all of which came from O’Dowd as a bench bat, but past experience didn’t seem needed to raise the trophy.

Thomas and Flores, both in their final games of their first season, delivered when it mattered most. Alongside the double play to secure the 7-3 win and sweep over No. 6 West Virginia, the pair of young stars delivered with their bats in a game that meant more than any they’ve played in their lives. Thomas scored three of Texas’ seven runs off of his three-for-five night, and Flores’ home run and three RBI led the Longhorns on a Saturday that will be remembered by two of the youngest Longhorns.

Despite being three games back from No. 6 West Virginia heading into its weekend series and the final matchup for each team, Texas baseball came in with confidence. By Friday night, the Longhorns had scored 22 runs in two games and were just one game back from being Big 12 champions, something that didn’t seem promising at many points within the regular season.

Even with West Virginia’s best pitcher, junior Ben Hampton, taking the mound on Saturday, Texas didn’t seem phased. In fact, WVU was the team forced to panic, as the four runs scored off of Hampton in the first inning were the only runs Texas needed to clinch the victory and hoist the trophy in front of thousands of fans decked out in burnt orange at the UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

After a 2022 season that saw seven starting hitters leave an Omaha-bound roster, head coach David Pierce had to search deep to find production from anyone, whether they were bench players, at other schools or even completely new to college baseball. With a number one seed and possibly a regional spot on the line, Pierce sent out a lineup that consisted of five Longhorns who weren’t on the roster in the past season, three of which were freshmen.

The final inning was entrusted to freshman right-hander Kobe Minchey and junior USC transfer Charlie Hurley, whose ground ball pitch to West Virginia’s leadoff man Tevin Tucker secured the victory and sent the Longhorns into a frenzy of celebration.

Though the 2023 Longhorns story couldn’t be written without the mention of new faces like Thomas and junior transfers Porter Brown and Garret Guillemette, the veterans of the roster contributed more than Pierce could’ve ever hoped for. Senior Eric Kennedy and junior Dylan Campbell, both key parts of last year’s Omaha run, not only led the team in the clubhouse, but on the field as well. The pair led the team in runs, home runs, and slugging percentage, and were two of the five Longhorns with an OPS (on-base + slugging) over one.

The Big 12 tournament, hosted in Arlington, kicks off on Wednesday, May 24, and will be the final test of the strength of the Longhorns before regional play returns. At this point last year, Texas was ranked as the fifth-best team in the Big 12. That team ended up in Omaha, an honor that every team in the nation strives for throughout a more than 60-game season.