Charlotte Bobcats

Texas has a 14-6 record at home with 12 of those wins coming against non-conference foes. Their opponent on Tuesday, Texas State, has a 2-13 record in road games this season.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

Two days after suffering a disheartening loss to Oklahoma, the Longhorns will look to rebound with a home game against Texas State.

Texas dropped Sunday’s series finale after closer Corey Knebel blew a one-run lead in the eighth inning and allowed the Sooners to score three runs and clinch the season series for the first time in 14 years. Despite the Longhorns’ 17-13 record, junior right fielder Mark Payton does not believe his team needs to panic.

“You can’t think about winning, because if you are trying to win you are putting too much pressure on yourself,” Payton said. “We are just trying to go out there trying to win each pitch and hopefully everything else will take care of itself.”

The Longhorns have an opportunity to right the ship against Texas State, as the Bobcats are 2-13 on the road in 2013. Texas won its first matchup against the Bobcats this season 5-3 in Austin on March 26.

Texas has been the beneficiary of strong pitching at home all season long, as the staff is yet to allow more than five runs in a game at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. This held true over the weekend against Oklahoma, as Longhorns starters combined to allow just two earned runs in 20 innings  in the three-game series.

Sophomore outfielder Cody Lovejoy presents the biggest threat for the Texas pitchers, as he leads the Bobcats with a .330 batting average. The Longhorns will also have to account for sophomore infielder Garrett Mattlage, who leads the team with 11 extra base hits and 21 RBIs.

Texas will be eager to improve its offensive production against the Bobcats, as it is coming off a series in which it scored just four runs in three games. This came immediately after a six-game stretch in which the Longhorns hit .316 as a team and recorded five double-digit hit efforts.

The Longhorns could have an opportunity to reverse their hitting woes against a Texas State pitching staff that has recorded a team ERA of 4.69 through 31 games. The Texas lineup had 11 hits in its first matchup against the Bobcats.

Tuesday’s game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Paul Montalbano reaches base during the Longhorns 2-0 victory Tuesday at home against Texas State. His triple put Texas ahead for good.

Photo Credit: Shannon Kintner | Daily Texan Staff

It was an ominous start to Sam Stafford’s night on the mound.

The junior, just three days removed from his first loss of the year Saturday at Kansas, threw the first pitch of the game for a ball. For the second pitch, he threw another one. The third pitch brought the same result. Quickly, Stafford was down in the count, 3-0, to Texas State’s leadoff batter Tyler Sibley.

And that’s when he began to fight back.

The lefthander gunned a fastball down the inner half of the plate for his first strike, and then he did it again to draw the count full. Sibley fouled off the next pitch, then watched the third strike rip right past him for the first out of the game.

Stafford’s first-inning triumph was a microcosm of No. 7 Texas’ 2-0 win over the Bobcats (25-15) Tuesday night: No matter how many bad pitches the Longhorns throw, or how many runners they leave on base, or however many great plays the other team makes, this team seems to always find a way to come out on top.

Through five innings, Texas (31-10) put on a clinic on how to leave runners stranded on base and throw away precious outs.

Jacob Felts and Mark Payton hit safely in the third inning and Tant Shepherd struck out swinging to end the frame. Paul Montalbano got on base via a walk in the fourth, then was caught stealing. Jonathan Walsh doubled to lead off the fifth inning and Alex Silver drew a walk, but Felts bunted into a rare 5-6-3 double play to squander Texas’ scoring chance.

“Texas State played a brilliant defensive game,” said head coach Augie Garrido. “Their timing, matchups, executions were all right.”

Shepherd began the sixth with a single to right field, but a poor sacrifice bunt attempt by Erich Weiss had Shepherd thrown out at second. With Weiss on first, Montalbano smacked a fastball right over the plate to right-center field; long enough for a triple, bringing Weiss home from first and giving the Longhorns’ the run had been eluding them.

“That’s the best ball I’ve hit since I’ve been here,” Montalbano said. “I’m not really a power hitter, so when I swing for the fences, the coaches get on to me. But he [Texas State pitcher Lee Colon] left the ball over the plate, and I was able to put a good swing on it and find the gap.”

It is unusual when Texas has to rely on power hitting to win games — Garrido likes to tailor his offense around bunting and small-ball principles.

“That’s something we keep in our back pocket in case nothing else works: When in doubt, go power,” he joked.

By the time the Longhorns had put their second and final run on the board in the eighth inning — a bloop single to shallow right field off the bat of Walsh to score Shepherd — Stafford’s day was long done. Because of the 54 pitches he had thrown against Kansas, Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson didn’t want to test the limits of Stafford’s arm, and pulled him after three innings.

“We wanted him to get back in a zone and get back in his comfort zone and give him a chance to regain some confidence,” Garrido said.

A collection of bullpen pitchers would reprieve Stafford the rest of the way — Nathan Thornhill went 2.2 innings, and Kendal Carrillo, Hoby Milner and Corey Knebel each worked one inning. Carrillo (4-0) got the win and Knebel picked up his thirteenth save of the year — second best in the nation.

“The bullpen did a great job tonight, it was clutch when it needed to be,” Stafford said. “I was scheduled to only go three innings so I was trying to be in control of each situation and establish the strike zone.”

Stafford dug himself into an early hole but fought back, strike by strike, to finish on top. And then, his team followed suit.
 

San Marcos isn’t home, but it’s close enough for homesick Longhorns

Of the 29 games the No. 15 Texas softball team has played, only nine have been at home. Yet, the Longhorns (23-6) have not lost a home game, most notably recording wins over teams ranked in the Top 25, including now-No. 12 Louisiana State University and No. 19 North Carolina.

Texas went 3-3 in its most recent stretch of away games over spring break and could use some of that home-field magic. The Longhorns will have to wait until Thursday for that, but they are teasingly close to home tonight as they travel 30 miles down the road to San Marcos to play Texas State.

“To be honest, San Marcos feels like home for us right now,” head coach Connie Clark said. “We’ll take it. It’s a short bus trip compared to the road warriors we’ve been as of late, so we’re just happy to be back in the Austin area and finishing out this segment before we start conference play here at home.”

Texas State (13-13) is coming off a split with Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas’ opponent for the home doubleheader Thursday. The Longhorns are also moving past a Sunday loss to No. 24 Louisville in the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif., that was characterized by two costly Texas errors. Texas looks to have its fundamentals back in shape for tonight’s game against the Bobcats.

“It was all those little things, the basics,” junior catcher Amy Hooks said. “I think that they’re going to be our main focus at practice. We know we have the talent and the team. We need to be championship material, so we’re just going to start focusing on getting the little things sure to get ready for conference play and the games leading up to them.”

Aside from the few mistakes, Texas has a lot to be excited about from the past weekend, like upsetting No. 3 Michigan and No. 11 Arizona State.

“It feels good to get the wins over the higher-ranked teams,” Hooks said. “But at the same time we take the losses pretty hard because you can’t put a number on a team. You have to go in and not play against the team, but play against the game.”

The game against Texas State could also mark a milestone in Texas history. Freshman outfielder Taylor Hoagland currently holds a 16-game hitting streak, tying with former UT player Lindsay Gardner for the longest hitting streak in the record books. Getting a hit tonight will give her the lone title.

“Breaking the record would mean a great deal to me,” Hoagland said. “Obviously, you can’t just brush it to the side, but at the same time you can’t get caught up in it because it’s an individual characteristic more than a team thing. I really try to focus on being better for the team. It would be nice, but it’s not one of my main goals.”