Tried and true, pitching and defense have been the backbone for this club all year.
On Monday against Kent State, it was the Longhorns’ lifeline.
Six different arms saw action against the Golden Flashes, all part of head coach Augie Garrido’s perfectly designed plan in the Longhorns’ 5-0 win.
“We were trying to get Sam Stafford through the top of the order twice to get through the left-handed hitters,” Garrido said. “After that, we made switches between pitchers dependent on momentum-shifting situations.”
Stafford, a few days removed from extensive work against Princeton, started the game. By the final out of the first inning, he had already thrown 31 pitches. Stafford was more effective in the second, striking out the side.
“I felt great,” he said. “I did everything I could to recover as quickly as possible [from Friday]. I was ready to go as long as they needed me to go.”
The junior left-hander lasted 3.2 innings and was relieved by Kendal Carrillo. After pitching an inning, Carrillo, who was officially given the win, was replaced by sophomore Hoby Milner in a sticky situation in the fifth — runners on second and third and Kent State’s power hitter Travis Shaw at the plate.
With a 3-1 count, Milner threw a curveball for a strike, then got Shaw to ground into a weak chopper down the first-base line. Milner scrambled to his left, caught the ball off a bounce and applied the tag.
“I finally got him to roll one. It was a huge momentum changer,” Milner said.
It was the closest call the Longhorns, who had just a 2-0 lead at the time, would face all day. Regular starters Cole Green and Taylor Jungmann pitched an inning each after Milner was done, and Corey Knebel closed out the Flashes.
“The pitching staff was totally unselfish,” Garrido said. “You have to think about Taylor Jungmann; today is the Major League Baseball draft. He goes out and pitches on short rest. Cole Green picks up an inning. It was just the epitome of teamwork.”
Stafford also described the teamwork as “unbelievable.”
Even the offense, much maligned for most of the season, pulled its weight Monday, giving the Longhorns early run support. Tant Shepherd, the Most Outstanding Player of the All-Tournament Team, led off with a double to left field. Mark Payton laid down a bunt, and as he ran down the line to first base, collided with Kent State’s George Roberts. The ball — along with Payton’s batting helmet — went flying in the crash, and Shepherd rounded third base then headed home.
“Nobody wants collisions and I wasn’t trying to run him over, but it was just one of those things where, as a competitive player, I was trying to get to the bag,” Payton said. “I’m not sure what happened, nobody seemed to know if the ball or his glove hit me, it was hard to tell.”
In the third, Payton again brought Shepherd home with an RBI-single to left field.
The Longhorns scored one run each in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings — only one of which came on a traditional base hit.
But the story of the day was the pitching puzzle.
“We were able to execute,” Garrido said. “And as a result, we were able to win.”