The days of the Longhorns pitching staff carrying the team are over.
Each of the first four players in the Texas lineup came into this week with batting averages above .300 and all four of those batters saw their batting averages go up after the No. 23 Longhorns’ (18-12, 7-2) 9-2 win over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (13-19, 6-9) at UFCU Disch-Falk Field Tuesday night.
After their first 14 games, only six of which resulted in Texas victories, the Longhorns’ team batting average was a mere .214. In its 16 games since then, Texas has scored 7.6 runs per game after averaging only 3.3 runs per game after starting 6-8 while raising that batting average to .282.
“Everything’s clicking,” said Longhorns head coach Augie Garrido.
Against the Islanders, the Longhorns had their way at the plate in the first four innings. Despite stranding eight runners in those initial four frames, Texas held a commanding 6-1 lead going into the fifth inning and had even racked up a dozen hits before A&M-Corpus Christi could retire a dozen Longhorns hitters. But Texas would finish the game with 12 hits as it was held hitless in the last five innings.
After a leadoff single in the first inning, sophomore right fielder Mark Payton extended his streak to 30 consecutive games reaching base this season. Payton, Texas’ leadoff hitter, went 2-for-4 and scored twice, setting the tone for what would be an explosive offensive night for the Longhorns.
“Those first couple of innings really showed what we can do and how we really need to play the rest of the year,” Payton said. “It’s a turning point in the season.”
Freshman center fielder Taylor Stell, making just his ninth start of the year, made significant contributions from the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Stell singled, doubled, walked and laid down a sacrifice bunt in the first inning that allowed Texas to draw first blood. Stell has picked up multiple hits in three of his last four games, raising his batting average from .250 to .360 over that stretch.
Reigning Big 12 Player of the week, sophomore third baseman Erich Weiss, drove in that first run and stayed white-hot at the plate. After going 10-for-17 in Lubbock this past weekend, the Brenham product went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Weiss struggled a bit during the beginning of the season, but has bounced back beautifully as he boasts a team-leading .588 slugging percentage and .370 batting average, 22 points higher than his .348 mark a year ago, which also led the Longhorns.
“When I wasn’t doing too hot at the beginning of the year, I just told myself that I need to keep looking forward and it’ll find holes and it has,” Weiss said. “We’re all hitting very well right now.”
Junior designated hitter Jonathan Walsh, batting from the cleanup spot, went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, although he did strike out twice, including once with the bases loaded and no outs in the eighth inning. Walsh isn’t far behind Weiss, as he’s posted a .352 batting average so far this year.
It’s hard to believe, after a performance like this one, that the Longhorns were so unproductive offensively in the beginning of this season. Texas has made huge strides at the plate over the course of the year and if they continue to improve, the Longhorns will be tough to beat down the stretch of the regular season and in the postseason.
“It isn’t who starts out the best, it’s who finishes,” Garrido said. “Can we get there? That’s the challenge. They’re better than they were than when we saw them in the beginning.”