Tant Shepherd

(Daily Texan file photo)

Photo Credit: Corey Leamon | Daily Texan Staff

Omaha — the Mecca of college baseball, the site of the College World Series and the expected destination for Longhorn baseball teams every year.

Behind pitchers like Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green, hitters like Brandon Loy and Tant Shepherd, and the all-time winningest coach in college baseball history, Texas reached the College World Series for the 34th time last season, a Division I record. Longhorns skipper Augie Garrido is back for his 16th year on the 40 Acres but Jungmann, Green, Loy and Shepherd are all pursuing professional baseball careers.

Without any of its starting pitchers from a year ago and after losing three of its top four hitters, Texas could have a tough time getting back to Omaha.

“I do know that we’ve gone to Omaha with less talent than we have right now,” Garrido said. “But talent doesn’t get you to Omaha, quite honestly. It’s part of it, but it’s not even the most important. Attitude and teamwork are the most important parts.”

Last year marked the seventh time since Garrido took over as the Texas head coach in 1997 that he took the Longhorns to the College World Series. It was Garrido’s pitching staff, one that boasted the nation’s second-lowest ERA a year ago, that carried Texas to Omaha. The Longhorns bring back Corey Knebel, who tied a school record with 19 saves as a freshman in 2011, but will have three new starting pitchers in their rotation — sophomore Nathan Thornhill, junior Hoby Milner and freshman John Curtiss — after Sam Stafford, who was expected to be Texas’ ace, went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.

“You can’t replace a guy like Taylor. You can’t replace a guy like Cole or Sam,” said Thornhill, who will start the season opener against Duke on Friday. “We definitely have a lot of young guys who know how to throw strikes and aren’t afraid to throw strikes, which is a huge deal. We’ve got a lot of guys who are ready to challenge hitters, whether they’re a freshman or senior.”

While the guys Texas was sending to the mound were mowing down the competition, the players in the Longhorns’ lineup didn’t fare as well. Texas posted a team batting average of .269, the third-lowest in the Big 12 and the 224th-best in the country, last season. The Longhorns lost three members of that lineup, including Shepherd and Loy, who were two of their three batters that hit better than .300 last season. Texas’ lineup this year should feature many underclassmen, especially after junior center fielder Cohl Walla suffered a torn ACL during the offseason.

“I think we have some good chances [to get to the College World Series],” said Erich Weiss, who led the team with a .348 batting average in 2011. “There might be a few [different] lineups after the first week going into the second week. Hopefully after that we can get it settled.”

Whether the Longhorns’ lineup, rotation or bullpen will be good enough to get them back to Omaha remains to be seen. Texas is a relatively inexperienced squad but knows what it takes to get there.

“We have enough talent on the pitching staff, we’re going to be able to play defense at a high enough level, and we’re going to be able to play offense at a higher level than we did last year,” Garrido said. “It’s about the fundamentals of the game. If we can master the fundamentals of the game, accept the roles that each player has in teamwork and maintain the right attitude, anything can happen. That’s the beauty of it.”

Tant Shepherd crosses home plate against Arizona State this past week. Shepherd has seen a rise in production since moving to the leadoff spot .

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

When Texas head coach Augie Garrido announced he would be unveiling a new, unorthodox batting lineup before regional play began, a few Longhorns weren’t so sure what their coach was thinking.
A few players voiced their confusion at the change, wondering what the thinking was behind it.
The change? Garrido decided to swap Tant Shepherd and Brandon Loy in the lineup, putting Shepherd at leadoff and Loy in the three-hole.
At the time, it seemed like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. Shepherd, the senior first baseman, did not seem like the ideal leadoff hitter the team needed. It wasn’t because Shepherd doesn’t have the ideal table-setter speed. He attests to having some of the best wheels on the team. It was just that you usually want your power hitters to have opportunities to hit with guys on base.
“There’s a huge difference in your mindset for your first at-bat of the game,” Shepherd said.
And Loy, the junior shortstop who possesses an ideal skill set for a leadoff hitter — quick, smart and a contact hitter with excellent bat control — would now be asked to hit with runners in scoring position.
After a sample of two weeks of play, the move seems to be paying off.
In the Austin Regional, Shepherd and Loy combined to go 12-for-32 from the plate (for an average of .375) and teamed up to draw in six runs and walk 10 times. Shepherd was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional and even got to flash some of his power, hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning in Texas’ 5-3 win over Princeton.
Results were just as good this past weekend in the Super Regionals, a three-game series against Arizona State. The duo hit .360 in three games and Loy stood out with a fantastic 3-for-4, 2 RBI outing in the decisive game three and a 4-2 Texas win.
The move has worked out because it allows Shepherd, who experimented at leadoff last year, and Loy to play to their strengths.
“I’m definitely faster than Brandon,” Shepherd said. “I’m the fastest infielder on the team.”
In terms of pitches seen, the move makes sense. Leadoff hitters traditionally see mostly fastballs — Shepherd’s specialty. Guys in the three-hole get fed more off-speed pitches — not Shepherd’s specialty.
“I didn’t really change my approach, the pitching is different,” Loy said. “Tant’s a fastball guy, and he gets those at leadoff. I see more breaking balls at the three-hole so I just have to be a little bit more patient and have to expect something off-speed.”
Loy’s scouting report during his freshman and sophomore years might have read something like this: intelligent, an excellent fielder, great bunter, no power.
None of that has changed. In his career, Loy has hit two homers. A fifth-round pick by the Detroit Tigers, he was drafted mostly for his glove and his intangibles, as well as a batting average that continues to rise. It is a bit odd that one of the more power-deprived players on the team bats third, but this Texas team does not have a typical offense.
“We’re not a team to hit a lot of home runs,” said third baseman Erich Weiss. “We play really smart baseball though, we like to get on base.”
The ability for Shepherd and Loy to move around in the lineup has made the top of the order strong heading into Omaha. Mark Payton, a freshman, has solidified himself as the two-hole hitter and resident bunter in Augie-ball. Weiss, also a freshman and carrying the team’s best average, bats fourth.
“It’s a little different. We’ve talked about doing more hit-and-runs with Brandon at the three-hole,” Weiss said. “I think it’s great.”
Both Payton and Weiss would agree that, in hindsight, the 1-3 swap looks brilliant, with Weiss calling it “clutch” and Payton going a step farther.
“It’s one of the smartest moves I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” he said. “Who knows what would have happened if coach Garrido didn’t make that change.”

This article appears in print as: "Shepard, Loy benefit from change in lineup, continue to produce runs"

Texas pitchers Nathan Thornhill (right) and Corey Knebel embrace after Knebel clinched the final out of TexasÂ’ 4-2 win over Arizona State in the Austin Super Regional.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

Bottoms up.

That’s more than simply your cue to start celebrating Texas’ 34th trip to the College World Series and its second in three years. Rather, it’s a tip of the cap to one of the reasons these Longhorns are headed to Omaha: The bottom of the order finally started hitting.

Kevin Lusson, Jacob Felts and Jordan Etier — a trio of maligned hitters who never met a bad pitch they didn’t swing at — played like All-Americans the past two weekends.

There was Lusson in the regional, hitting two home runs and a walk-off single. There was Felts, notching two hits in the super regional and holding his ground at home plate as ASU’s Mike Benjamin barreled into him on Saturday in a play that swung the momentum of the series. And then there was Etier who, after going 0-for-2 with two strikeouts Friday night, sent a three-run shot deep into the night on Saturday, a spark of momentum from a guy who has struggled through a tough junior season.

“I’m particularly pleased for him,” said head coach Augie Garrido after the game. “He had had a rough night. Everybody is thrilled with the way he handled adversity.”

They aren’t the most celebrated — though Etier was trending on Twitter for 24 hours — but the truth of the matter remains that, without them, this season is no more.

“Lusson was really huge in the regionals, put some good at-bats together. Etier was the hero after a night he struggled more than I had ever seen him. Felts is probably one of the toughest kids on the team,” said senior Tant Shepherd.

Sunday’s game didn’t require any heroics. It was a game won on the mound, and it was a game won thanks to timely two-out hitting. In fact, Lusson was the only one of the three to register a hit. Texas’ season may have ended last week without them, or last night.

In a losing effort, Lusson lifted a three-run shot to right field against Kent State. Clearly, it helped his confidence, as he registered the winning hit the next morning against Texas State. Later that night, he again provided the exclamation point, by way of another homer, in a win over Kent State.

Confident and full of momentum, Texas cruised to a 5-0 win the next day to take the regional.

But after losing 3-1 on Friday against Arizona State, it looked like that the dream of Omaha was all but dead. After all, staff ace Taylor Jungmann had been used in the loss, and the offense looked especially anemic — which has seemed like the word of choice when describing the offense — pushing across just one run and leaving a crucial seven runners on base.

So the shot in the arm that the seven, eight and nine hitters delivered Saturday came at the perfect time. Lusson went 1-for-3 and walked. Felts put the tag on what would have been the tying run. The cushion — and the confidence — that Etier’s blast presented is obvious.

“His home run loosened us up,” Shepherd said. “It gave us momentum.”

You can certainly pinpoint other causes for the Longhorns going 5-0 in elimination games the past two weekends. Starting pitching has been strong, the bullpen has been excellent, and the coaching staff pushed all the right buttons at the right time. Young stars Corey Knebel, Erich Weiss and Mark Payton continue to shine. Elder statesmen Shepherd and Brandon Loy have delivered the big hits. When I asked Knebel the biggest reason Texas is going to Omaha, the closer appropriately replied.

“I’d go with pitching,” he said, smiling.

Garrido made it a point to recognize a rabid crowd.

“I don’t know if we would have held up if it weren’t for our fans,” he said. “I think our fans did more to win the game than any other time during the year.”

But Shepherd knew the major story line.

“The guys in the bottom of the order have been the unexpected heroes for us the past few weeks,” he said. “When they’re hitting, it’s a bonus for us.”

Baseball

Texas' Jordan Etier flies safely into first base in the third inning. Etier was the catalyst for an explosive offensive night, as the junior second baseman went 3-for-4, including a three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns staved off elimination yet again Saturday night with their 5-1 win over Arizona State in the Austin Super Regional. Mark Payton scored the winning run in the sixth inning for Texas and Jordan Etier slapped a three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning for insurance.

Cole Green (8-3) pitched five solid innings for Texas and picked up the win. The senior struck out four and gave up only one run.

“I had a lot of focus and intensity,” Green said. “I just tried to stick with what I know, which is to throw the ball down in the zone and be aggressive.”

Texas got on the board in the third inning when Payton hit a sacrifice fly to center left field that scored Tant Shepherd, who led the inning off with a walk. Payton didn’t record a hit during the game, but walked twice and scored a run to go along with the RBI.

The Longhorns added another run in the sixth inning that turned out to be the game-winner. Payton led off with a walk and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Brandon Loy, who moved into a tie for fourth on the NCAA career list with 55 sac bunts. Erich Weiss then doubled to send Payton home.

The Sun Devils answered in the bottom of the sixth with a run of their own on a sacrifice fly from Joey DeMichele that scored Deven Marrero. Arizona State began the inning with two consecutive singles that forced Green to leave the game, but left-hander Hoby Milner came in and limited the damage for the Longhorns.

Texas got into more trouble in the seventh inning after Xorge Carrillo led off with a single and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Zack MacPhee. Kendal Carrillo came in for Texas and struck out pinch-hitter Andy Workman, and then Andrew McKirahan entered to record the final out. Johnny Ruettiger hit a single to Etier at second base, and Etier tried to throw him out at first but was late. As Etier threw to first, Carrillo rounded third base and was streaking toward home plate when Tant Shepherd fired home a throw that catcher Jacob Felts barely held onto as Carrillo crashed into him. Garrido said they hadn’t practiced that throw once the entire season.

“It was a great play,” he said. “There were some really outstanding defensive plays from both teams.”

Etier proved his worth again in the ninth inning by hitting a home run into the Longhorns’ bullpen. The junior finished the day 3-for-4, a vast improvement from his 0-for-2 performance on Friday.

“I had to reboot it and refocus,” Etier said. “I had to take it as another day and get out there and compete with the challenges.”

The home run was Etier’s second of the season. He hit his first on March 8 against UTSA, which was also the first for the team.

“I am particularly pleased with [Etier], he had a rough night last night,” Garrido said. “He was motivated by the problem and did a great job tonight.”

Corey Knebel came in the eighth inning and picked up his 18th save of the season, moving him within one of the Texas single-season record.

Sam Stafford and Brandon Loy received the fanfare of being selected in the higher rounds of day two of this year’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, but there were other Longhorns who came off the board later Tuesday.

Senior pitcher Cole Green was chosen by the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth round. Relief pitcher Andrew McKirahan went to the Chicago Cubs in the 21st round, and senior first baseman and Austin Regional Most Outstanding Player Tant Shepherd was selected by the New York Mets in the 24th round.

Last year, Green was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the fourth round, but turned down a $300,000 signing bonus for the opportunity to stay in school. Monetarily, that decision looks like it might end up hurting Green, who probably will not get as high an offer this time. But he has repeatedly said all season long that he has no regrets about his decision to turn down big money for the chance to win a national championship. As a junior, Green went 11-2. This year, he is 7-3 with a higher ERA. However, most agree Green has improved in terms of mechanics — his strikeout numbers are higher, and opponents are hitting at a lower average against him. In the long term, Green projects as a back-of-the rotation pitcher or, most likely, a relief pitcher.

Though he didn't see much action this season, McKirahan went a little earlier than most would have projected. The junior left-hander is 3-0 with a 3.05 ERA and, if he signs, would bring pitching depth to an organization that needs all the help it can get.

Shepherd, who despite putting up good numbers and being an above-average defender at first base, has never been very high on many scouts’ boards. Last year, Shepherd was a 47th round selection, and he fell lower in this draft than he probably should have before the Mets picked him. He is the second Longhorn headed to the Big Apple in this year’s draft class (assuming Stafford signs with the Yankees).

The draft continues Wednesday with rounds 31-50. Cohl Walla, Jordan Etier and Kendal Carrillo are hopeful to hear their names called.

Senior Cole Green throws a pitch Sunday against Texas State. In his eight innings of work, Green stuck out eight Bobcats and allowed just two earned runs.

Photo Credit: Ryan Edwards | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns live to see another day.

Texas won twice on Sunday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field to force an elimination game tonight with Kent State in the Austin Regional. Texas beat Texas State 4-3 in the afternoon and followed with a 9-3 win over Kent State.

“I think the purpose of the first loss was to challenge the players to find their inner baseball player inside of them to come up to another level,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido. “And now they have experienced it.”

The Longhorns got off to a hot start against Kent State, tallying three runs in the first inning. They only scored five runs in their loss to the Golden Flashes on Saturday.

“From top to bottom, it was a great effort by our lineup,” said Texas first baseman Tant Shepherd. “[The early runs] make pitching a lot easier, it gets momentum on our side, and it’s huge for us.”

Shepherd led off the game with a walk, and scored two batters later on a single from Brandon Loy. Erich Weiss followed with a single and he and Loy stole bases to reach scoring position. Paul Montalbano and Jonathan Walsh later drove them in.

It wasn’t just the bats that were working for Texas. Counting hit-by-pitches, steals and walks, Kent State surrendered 14 baserunners to the Longhorns.

“You can’t give them bases,” said Kent State head coach Scott Stricklin. “When you do that against Texas, they are going to beat you. You have to play solid baseball to beat them, and we didn’t do that.”

Shepherd stole second base in the fourth inning and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt from Mark Payton, his second of the game. Erich Weiss slapped a single to right field two batters later to send Shepherd home and put Texas up 5-2. It was Augie-ball at its finest.

“One of the things about our bunting game and running game is we give our players a lot of freedom to act on their own decisions,” Garrido said. “When you see some of those bunts, I’m not putting all those on. I want them to be aware of what they think they need to do and then have the freedom to act on it.”

Payton doubled in the sixth inning, and scored on one play as a wild pitch moved him to third and Kent State catcher David Lyon’s throw missed third base for an error. Kevin Lusson tacked on three more in the ninth with a home run to right field, his second against the Golden Flashes in as many games.

Nathan Thornhill (3-0) pitched 3.2 innings in relief of Hoby Milner and picked up the win for Texas. The freshman struggled early, surrendering consecutive singles with one out, but found his changeup and was able to fool the Golden Flashes with a mix of that and his fastball. He struck out a career-high seven batters.

“His changeup started working and got us off balance,” Stricklin said. “He won the game for them.”

Cole Green pitched eight innings and struck out eight in the Longhorns 4-3 win over Texas State in Sunday’s early game, moving him into third place all-time at UT with 378 innings. Lusson won the game in the ninth with a walk-off single that bounced onto Comal Street.

Baseball

Texas moved one step closer Saturday to first place in the Big 12 with a 4-3 win over Oklahoma at Disch-Falk Field. The Longhorns took the first two games of the series, and will go for the sweep on Sunday.

“The sweep is huge with the way percentages work in the Big 12,” first baseman Tant Shepherd said. “A sweep in this conference is really big and that’s something we want to do.”

Cole Green picked up the win for Texas but got into early trouble after a perfect first inning. Green walked leadoff hitter Tyler Ogle in the second inning, and after a sac bunt from Cameron Seitzer moved Ogle to second base, Ricky Eisenberg put the Sooners on the board with an RBI single to right field. Oklahoma scored two more runs on a Caleb Bushyhead triple three batters later, and lead 3-0 heading into the bottom of the second inning.

“I was getting under the ball and I was getting out of rhythm and felt a little uncomfortable,” Green said. “Every inning, every pitch is a battle.”

Erich Weiss responded in the home half of the second, hitting a leadoff homerun over the right field wall. It was Weiss’ third homerun of the year, and the freshman extended his hitting streak to 15 consecutive games.

“I was going to back off the plate a little bit, and [Oklahoma pitcher Burch Smith] ended up leaving one up in the strike zone and I just put a good swing on it,” Weiss said. “I kind of knew that one was gone.”

Texas continued the rally in the third inning. The Longhorns began the inning with four consecutive singles, culminating in Shepherd’s two-RBI shot through the left side of the infield. Paul Montalbano added another run with a RBI bloop-double that fell fair of the left field line.

“That was a little lucky. I haven’t had a hit like that all season,” Montalbano said. “I’ll take it.”

Texas head coach Augie Garrido was reluctant to put Montalbano fifth in the batting order, but said the senior had a knack for sustaining rallies in a variety of ways.

“He’s not the prototype five-hole hitter, but maybe we’re not the prototype offense,” Garrido said. “We’ve got to put people into positions were they can keep the rally going.”

The four runs were all Texas needed for the win. Green retired eight consecutive batters after his rough second inning. The senior struck out six in six innings, and moved to 4-3 for the season.

Corey Knebel recorded his 14th save on the season, but had trouble in the ninth inning. He walked the leadoff batter and hit another to put two on for the Sooners.

“I’m upset at myself I let those guys get on. I know I’m a better pitcher than they are hitters, and I shouldn’t have let them get on base,” Knebel said.

The freshman struck out one and got the final batter to fly out to right field to end the game.

Sam Stafford will start for Texas on Sunday as the Longhorns try for the sweep.

Friday 

Friday’s 5-0 win over Oklahoma was more than just another Texas ‘W’ in the win column.
For Augie Garrido, it means the achievement of a milestone: career win No. 1,800.

“The truth of it, with no modesty included, its significance is not deniable because it represents so many extraordinary people and the job they’ve done,” said Garrido, who is the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach. “No one person really accomplishes anything without the other people around him.”

Taylor Jungmann was the key catalyst, tossing his third complete-game shutout of the season, and his first since handcuffing Hawaii in late February. In 107 pitches of work, Jungmann (10-0) fanned nine Sooners and allowed just four hits.

“Everything worked well for me tonight,” he said.

The junior held his own as the Longhorns’ offense struggled to find their footing, pitching out of a few early jams, including a bases-loaded situation in the third inning against Oklahoma’s Garrett Buechele — a .386 batter with already 51 RBI and 7 homeruns.

“He had the bases loaded with one out [the third inning] and the fifth inning he had runners on third and second with one out and he got out of those innings. Those were the innings that changed the game,” Garrido said. “The momentum shifted.”

Jungmann’s infielders agreed.

“You look at Buechele’s stats and you know he’s good, but Jungmann is fearless,” said junior shortstop Brandon Loy. “He’s not scared of anybody. He pitches his game, he doesn’t care who’s up there.”

The bats picked up their ace pitcher in the fourth, as senior center fielder Paul Montalbano drove in Tant Shepherd with a double to left center, his thirteenth RBI of the year.

“Their pitcher left it up and over the plate so I was just trying to put a ball in the outfield,” Montalbano said.

In the fifth inning, Loy hit a two-out triple to center off Oklahoma starter Michael Rocha. Mark Payton laid down a drag bunt to bring him home.

The Longhorns tacked two more runs on in the sixth. Freshman Erich Weiss started the rally with a triple to the left field line — his sixth triple of the year, a Texas freshman record — and Montalbano brought him home with a single to right. Montalbano moved to second on a passed ball, and Jonathan Walsh drove him in with a single to center.

“Our offense was ready to play today, and we played good defense,” Payton said. “We did the little things right today. This was a huge win.”

Texas struck once more in the seventh, as Loy jacked a leadoff home run right over the 375-foot sign in left. It’s the first home run of the year for the junior, and the second of his career.

“It was a fastball in, and I just squared it up,” he said. “The wind was on my side.”

Loy finished his day 3-for-4, just a double shy of the cycle. Fitting that his best day in a Longhorn uniform came against the rival he loves to play — and has never lost to.

“It was a good day for me,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t been beaten by them. We’ve swept them two years in a row. It’s the most fun series for me. There’s something about playing Oklahoma that gives you some extra motivation.”

Weiss’ sixth-inning triple increased his hit-streak to 14 games. The third baseman is now 11 away from Michael Torres’ school record of 25.

“It’s great to keep the streak going,” Weiss said. “But I didn’t really think about the streak today. I know it’s there, but I’m not thinking about it. It’s good if you don’t, because then you don’t have high expectations.”

Dominant pitching and an offense that showcased a bit of everything — runs scored on two-out hitting, bunts, and even the rare homerun — proved a devastating combination for the No. 14 Sooners.

“Our team scrapped it out. I think we showed that we can hit good pitching,” Garrido said. “I think we’re moving forward.”

When things aren’t going right, just focus on your fashion.

That’s what the Longhorns did Sunday in an attempt to relieve themselves of the hitting slump suffered in a loss the day before to Texas Tech. The offensive players rolled up their pant legs to show half of their socks and used a newfound energy to come back and beat Tech by two runs.

“We went with mid socks today to loosen up the players and the offense,” said Texas first baseman Tant Shepherd. “The scoreboard didn’t show we were loose, but we were.”

The decision to change socks was brought on by a team meeting held before the game. Texas head coach Augie Garrido met with team leaders to try and find a way for them to communicate better with each other and make the game more fun.

“The meeting was about getting the players to feel good about playing. This game can get you down,” Garrido said. “Yesterday was a tough day and was very tough on the players’ emotions.”

Texas got only three hits in a 2-1 loss on Saturday, and it looked to be more of the same heading into the eighth inning on Sunday. The Red Raiders had a 1-0 lead, and Texas went down in order in three consecutive innings.

“Yesterday was tough on us, and the first seven innings were tough on us today,” said shortstop Brandon Loy. “When you’re putting doughnuts on the board, it’s not fun. You’ve got to find a way to make it fun, and that’s what we did.”

Loy tied the game in the eighth inning with an RBI single hit into right field that scored Paul Montalbano from second base. Loy was up to bat Saturday with bases loaded and two outs but grounded out to shortstop to end the game.
“I take that stuff personally,” he said. “As a leader on this ball club, people look up to me, and that’s something I’ve got to do.”

Shepherd hit a first-pitch curveball down the left-field line for a triple two batters later that scored two runs and put Texas up for good.

“We’ve got to find a way to string hits together, and that’s what we did in the eighth,” Loy said. “One hit an inning is not going to do it. We’ve got to capitalize on scoring chances for momentum.”

Loy and Shepherd were two of the five leaders present at the pregame meeting and said that it was effective hearing criticism from teammates and not just coaches.

“When the message comes from one of your teammates, it means more,” Shepherd said.

Loy said the Longhorns need to figure out how to relax during pressure situations and realize that they’re playing baseball to have fun.

“It wasn’t fun all day, I promise you that,” Loy said. “We’d obviously like it to be a little easier, but we’ll take the win.”

After four innings of missed opportunities and sheer bad luck — a few robbed hits, two long balls that fell short at the warning track and a strong wind that kept just about everything in play — Texas finally found a way to start a scoring rally.

Down 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth and with one out, freshman catcher Jacob Felts drilled a shot up the middle of the infield, where it looked like Baylor’s second baseman Steve DalPorto might have a play on it. DalPorto stretched out to his right and snatched the ball out of the air, but as he came back down and hit the turf, the ball, upon impact, slipped out of his glove. Felts was safe at first — the Longhorns had finally gotten a lucky break.

Felts would advance to second on a bunt hit by Brandon Loy — a bunt so perfectly placed between the third-base line and the pitcher’s mound that by the time Baylor’s pitcher Trent Blank could get his hands on it, Loy was already safe at first.
Paul Montalbano watched the third strike go by, giving Texas two outs. It looked like the Longhorns would again come up short.

But, as he’s done all season, Erich Weiss delivered in the clutch. On a 2-0 count, the freshman hit an RBI-single to center field, where it dropped just a few feet in front of the Bears’ Brooks Pinckard, who had already robbed Texas of a few hits — including a diving takeaway of what would have been a probable two-run double by Weiss in the third inning.

It was the one ball that Pinckard couldn’t get to, and it meant Texas was finally on the board.

“We were down on ourselves after falling behind 2-0, but we knew there was a lot of time left,” said Weiss, who leads the team with 21 RBIs. “I was frustrated after their center fielder robbed me in the third, so I was relieved to get that hit. We knew we weren’t going to lose; we just had to put some hits together.”

The Longhorns’ never-say-die attitudes helped them again in the seventh. Tant Shepherd, who, in the fourth inning, hit a ball to the 405-foot marker in center field, which was caught against the wall by Pinckard, got some revenge with a two-run double to left that scored Weiss and Montalbano.

“This is a crazy game,” Shepherd said. “You can hit a ball really hard, but it can still be an out. That’s how baseball works. It’s a game of inches.”

Shepherd’s double gave Texas a 4-2 lead. Two batters later, a sacrifice bunt by Jonathan Walsh brought Shepherd home for the fifth and final run of the game.
“Today showed the character this team has,” Shepherd said. “To come off a loss (7-6 Saturday against Baylor) and get a win today is awesome.”

Not one of the Longhorns’ runs came easily. As Loy said afterward, the game was an exercise in “making something out of nothing.”

Sometimes, as Texas learned Sunday, it’s just best to make your own luck.

Sunday's mercy-rule win gives Texas 3-1 advantage on weekend

The fourth and final game of the weekend series against Brown started with a Bear groundout to third base and ended with a groundout to Texas pitcher Cole Green in the seventh inning, thanks to the 10-run mercy rule.

And in between, the Longhorns made sure to pay attention to the little details they sometimes overlook, coming out of Sunday’s game with a 11-1 win to give them a 3-1 series advantage.

“Same guys, same uniforms, same numbers. Now tell me how big a role attitude and mentality play in this game,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido, comparing his team’s win today to its 7-3 loss Saturday.

The loss yesterday was marred by poor pitching and lack of defensive focus, as well as an inability to string together consecutive quality at-bats against a Brown team (1-6) that surprised the the fifth-ranked Longhorns (11-5).

“Sometimes we think we’re going to kill opponents and take them lightly,” centerfielder Cohl Walla said. “That second game of the doubleheader that we lost, we were worried about individual stuff.”

The Longhorns would get the bad taste out of their mouths in a hurry. First baseman Tant Shepherd scored the first run of the game with a second-inning solo shot to leftfield, his second home run of the year.

Catcher Jacob Felts took a base on balls and the next batter, Jordan Etier, brought him home on a triple.
Just an inning later, Texas pushed three more runs across. After two more runs in the fourth, thanks to a two RBI-double by Walla, they held a 7-1 advantage.

Freshman Erich Weiss hit a two RBI-triple in the fifth inning to punch in a few more runs and by the end of the frame, the Longhorns had 11 runs on the scoreboard.

While the offense was doings its part, Green (1-2) was spinning together a masterpiece on the mound. The senior built upon his strong outing Tuesday against UTSA with a 10-strikeout performance against the Bears, allowing just one earned run and not giving up a single walk.

“I feel good. I’ve got pretty good command of my off-speed pitches and my fastball is there,” he said. “I was able to get ahead of batters, get groundouts, keep the ball down. The start on Tuesday did a ton for my confidence, it got me back to the basics.”

Garrido liked Green’s even-keeled approach even after Brown got a few hits off him.

“Cole did a good job. He looked like a professional pitcher,” he said. “He didn’t get rattled by their hits. He stayed focused and wasn’t worried about things.”

The loss went to Brown’s Lucas Whitehill, who managed just two innings of work and gave up four earned runs.

Double-header drop off

Games 2 and 3 were a little different for Texas. The Longhorns’ Saturday started better than it ended, as they fell 7-3 to Brown in the second game of a double header. Texas gave up 10 hits to the Bears and left nine runners stranded.

“We never really consistently put together at-bat by at-bat like we did the night before,” Texas head coach Augie Garrid said after Saturday's loss. “You come out the night before and have a great game, and it lowers your competitive spirits at times. You think you have it made.”

Texas struck first in the second inning, when Tant Shepherd scored on an RBI groundout by Jacob Felts. Paul Mantalbano laid a sac bunt to get Shepherd to third base, a formula the Longhorns used again in the third inning to score Brandon Loy.

Loy walked to lead off the inning, moved to third on a Cohl Wall sac bunt and scored on an Erich Weiss groundout. Loy led off four times in the game for Texas and reached base every time.

“We’ve got to focus more on when we have momentum, holding on to it, running with it, instead of giving it back in certain situations,” Texas starting pitcher Sam Stafford said.

The Bears took the lead in the third inning off a Ryan Zrenda homerun, a two-run shot that hit the left field foul pole. Brown added another run in the third as Stafford walked Graham Tyler with the bases loaded. Stafford finished the day with five walks, but also had seven strikeouts in six innings.

Garrido was tossed from the game in the fourth inning, when he came out to argue a call at first base. Texas had a chance to capitalize on the momentum of their coach fighting for them, but couldn’t.

“That’s a time in the game when we need to get his back,” Stafford said. “It’s disappointing we couldn’t take advantage of the momentum that that could of given us.”

Texas scored again in the fifth off a Walla RBI groundout to tie the score 3-3, but the Bears retook the lead in seventh. Keifer Nuncio came in for Stafford and surrendered a leadoff single to designated hitter Mike DiBiase. DiBiase would score later in the inning off a sac bunt, and Brown added two more in the inning to go ahead 6-3. Five Texas relievers gave up four earned runs over three innings.

“The pitching was just one element of disappointment,” Garrido said. “When you get your leadoff hitter on seven times in a row and only end up with three runs, it really taints the environment; I think everybody is affected in a negative way by that.”

The Longhorns did try to mount a rally in the eighth, after a Montalbano double and Felts single put runners at the corners, but were unable to score.

Texas did beat the Bears in the first game of the double header, after Erich Weiss hit a grand slam in the fifth inning to put Texas up 4-3. Sophomore Hoby Milner struck out five in five innings, and Corey Knebel picked up his third save of the season.