Opposing pitchers have not had much luck against the Longhorns lately.
No. 18 Texas (15-9) scored in each of the first five innings, jumped out to an early 10-0 and never looked back, trouncing Cal (14-10), 13-2, at the Dell Diamond Friday night. Sophomore Nathan Thornhill improved to 3-2 on the season with a solid seven-inning outing. The Cedar Park product, playing less than 20 miles from where he went to high school, was perfect through four innings before allowing five hits and two earned runs.
The Golden Bears, like Texas, reached last year’s College World Series and came into this series with a 14-9 record. But Cal was no match for the hard-hitting Longhorns.
“Tonight is the best game we’ve played where we have sustained longer rallies,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido. “We got seven guys to the plate in the first inning. We got eight guys to the plate in the third inning. We’re trying to get nine guys to the plate – it’s one of the games we try to play – to see if we can get everybody to the plate in the same inning.”
Five different Longhorns racked up multiple hits and two of those four homered. Junior designated hitter Landon Steinhagen went 2-for-4 and hit a two-run bomb in the fourth inning while junior left fielder Jonathan Walsh was 2-for-3 with a solo shot in the eighth. Walsh homered in his second straight game and registered multiple hits for in his eighth consecutive contest.
Sophomore right fielder Mark Payton, who notched three hits in five at-bats, set the tone with a leadoff single in the first inning, extending his streak of consecutive contests reaching base to 24 games. He scored on a single by sophomore third baseman Erich Weiss. Senior shortstop Jordan Etier scored after the Golden Bears committed a throwing error on a double steal and Weiss crossed the plate following a sacrifice fly from freshman second baseman Brooks Marlow. For the second straight game, Texas put up a crooked number in the first frame.
“I’m very fortunate to have that going for me right now,” Payton said. “But it can change at any moment and I’ve got to keep the same mentality that I’ve had for the first 24 and hopefully keep it rolling.”
In Wednesday’s 9-5 win over UT-Pan American, the Longhorns scored four runs in the first inning before allowing five unanswered runs. Texas eventually regained the lead and won but a similar comeback attempt was not made Friday. The Longhorns scored three times in the first inning, once in the second, four runs in the third, and tacked on two more in the fourth – all before any Cal batter had reached base.
“As a pitcher, you can go in there knowing that your offense has your back and they already put up some runs for you,” said Thornhill. “You can just pound the zone.”
Thornhill turned in arguably his best performance since Opening Day, when he held Duke scoreless over five innings and outpitched the Blue Devils ace Marcus Stroman, a potential first-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft. After retiring the first 12 batters he faced, Thornhill surrendered three straight hits to start the fifth inning and nearly allowed a fourth on a fly ball to the left-field warning track. The Golden Bears scored twice in that frame before adding another run in the sixth inning. Freshmen pitchers Dillon Peters and John Curtiss combined to hold Cal without a run in the final two frames.
“We talked a lot this week about simplifying the game and not trying too hard up there,” Thornhill said. “I was just going out there and not worrying about who’s at the plate but throwing to the mitt. The change up and fastball were working a lot.”
The Longhorns have now won 10 of their last 11 games, a significant turnaround considering that they lost five of their first seven. Texas has also scored at least six runs in all but one of its last 10 games.