Connor Mayes

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Texas finished a historic run to the Big 12 championship game with a 6–3 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys at ONEOK Field in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Sunday.

The Longhorns, who finished the Big 12 regular season in fifth place with a 2625 overall record, rode the backs of their pitchers to the championship game. Texas got three consecutive complete games from pitchers — senior Parker French, junior Ty Culbreth and freshman Connor Mayes.

Texas saw Sunday’s starting pitcher, right-handed freshman Kyle Johnston, pick up where the other three left off. Johnston threw five innings of one-hit ball before getting into trouble in the sixth inning.

“All of the four starters did an excellent job of getting their outs on time,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “[The pitchers were] pitching to contact, pitching without fear, showing a purpose on the mound, trusting their teammates behind them and going about their business of playing baseball.”

The Longhorns scored the first run of the game in the third inning. Junior left fielder Ben Johnson hit a one-out single and moved over to second on freshman shortstop Joe Baker's sacrifice bunt. Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa hit an RBI single to center to bring Johnson home and gave Texas a 1–0 lead.

Johnston kept the Cowboys offense shut-down until the sixth inning, in which he issued a one-out walk to freshman infielder Jacob Chappell.  The Cowboys followed the walk with a single from senior outfielder Gage Green. Oklahoma State tied the game on an RBI single by junior outfielder Corey Hassel.

The Cowboys continued their offensive push in the seventh inning. French came into the ballgame to relieve Johnston, as Oklahoma State loaded the bases. The Cowboys were able to score a run and take a 2–1 lead, but French was able to get the Longhorns out of the inning only down one.   

Down a run, the Longhorns offense exploded in the eighth inning. Texas took advantage of three errors and scored five runs on two hits to give it a 6–2 lead.

But Oklahoma State would try to rally in the bottom frame as it loaded the bases in the eighth. The Cowboys were able to score a run, but the Longhorns got off the inning 6–3.

Texas called upon senior left handed pitcher Kirby Bellow to finish the eighth and ninth innings and secure its fifth Big 12 Tournament Championship.    

“I just went out there and trusted myself and focused on the glove and didn't worry about the runners,” Bellow said. “I just went out there and tried to do my job.

Sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Gurwitz had two hits and two RBIs in the championship game.

While he earned the tournament’s highest honor, Gurwitz was quick to acknowledge his teammates efforts throughout the tournament.

I have the easy part,” Gurwitz said. “My teammates in the eighth inning they got the bases loaded for me, they tied the game. All I had to do was put the ball in play, and I found a hole.”

Gurwitz, French and Mayes were named to all-tournament team alongside sophomore catcher Tres Barrera, senior second baseman Brooks Marlow, freshman third baseman Bret Boswell and Baker. 

Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

Before the season began, the Longhorns thought they had a starting rotation certain to get them back to Omaha, Nebraska.

Senior pitcher Parker French was coming off of a year with a 2.41 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Sophomore pitcher Josh Sawyer and junior pitcher Chad Hollingsworth were coming off injuries, and sophomore pitcher Kacy Clemens, son of Texas pitching legend Roger Clemens, was looking for his first start on the mound after playing first base last season.

Two months later, as the team heads into its last Big 12 home series against Texas Tech this weekend, the Texas rotation looks far different from the one that started the season.

Clemens is out for at least a month with an elbow injury. Hollingsworth has battled injuries, and Sawyer has been relegated to starting the Tuesday games. Of the four, French is the only player left in Friday’s starting rotation.

“When you start talking injuries, you start making excuses, and you don’t try to find solutions,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “We’re trying to find solutions.”

Garrido’s solution, at least for this weekend, will be to put junior pitcher Ty Culbreth and freshman pitcher Connor Mayes into the starting rotation.

Culbreth started last Saturday at TCU in place of Clemens, and, although he got the loss, he pitched six innings, gave up just three earned runs and struck out six to give the Longhorns a chance in the game.

Mayes came out of the bullpen in Sunday’s series finale, shutting down the Horned Frogs for four innings before giving up two runs in the sixth.

“He came in, grabbed the ball and threw it to the mitt with no fear,” Garrido said of Mayes after Sunday’s game. “That’s the way he pitched in high school, and that’s what made him one of the top pitchers in the entire state.”

But the new arms in the rotation might be too little, too late for the Longhorns.

The sweep Texas received at the hands of TCU all but closed the door on the Longhorns’ hopes of receiving an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns still have a shot at getting into the 64-team field by winning the Big 12 Championship next month, but that would require winning a minimum of four games in five days.

The games won’t get easier this weekend as Texas Tech rolls into town. The Red Raiders sit fourth in the conference — two games above the Longhorns — with a 10–8 Big 12 record and were ranked in Baseball America’s College Top 25 before losing their series to Oklahoma State last weekend.

Texas pitchers will face off against Red Raiders sophomore Stephen Smith, who’s tied for second in the conference with eight home runs, and junior Eric Gutierrez, who has belted 13 doubles this season.

Still, even with all the losses and the changes in the rotation, junior left fielder Ben Johnson said the team is keeping an upbeat attitude.

“Whatever happens, happens with the tournament,” Johnson said. “It’s out of our hands at this point. We just have to go out there and compete every day and try to win as many games as you can.”