Louisiana-Lafayette

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

In what was probably the least exciting and fulfilling game of the weekend, Texas failed to complete the series sweep of Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday afternoon at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

The Longhorns fell to the Ragin’ Cajuns, 2-1, in a game that totaled 10 combined hits and featured dominant pitching performances and stellar defensive plays.

“It was a great series against a good team,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “We really faced some good pitching, and we grew up this weekend. That’s for sure.”

Texas’ starting pitcher, sophomore Blair Henley, threw five innings, allowing five hits and one earned run. His successors, redshirt juniors Josh Sawyer and Andy McGuire, were equally efficient, allowing one earned run on only one hit. Junior third baseman Kody Clemens believed that the pitching staff did more than enough to put the Longhorns in a position to win on Sunday.

“Nolan (Kingham), Chase (Shugart) and Blair (Henley) all threw really well,” Clemens said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the run production we needed to win this last game. We learned a lot. I thought the pitchers threw well, but we just got to get better.”

The offense struggled to get anything going behind Texas’ pitching, particularly with bringing the runs in. Clemens collected two of Texas’ four hits with his two singles. The theme of the game seemed to be hard-hit balls in easy-to-reach places.

“Today was rough,” Pierce said. “We hit a lot of balls hard today. Had no luck today. Some quality at-bats, a couple mistake pitches and that was the difference.”

The weekend as whole showed plenty of promise for the Longhorns’ 2018 season. The first day exhibited a true top-of-the-rotation “ace” pitcher in junior Nolan Kingham. He started off the season with one of the best starts of his career, pitching eight shutout innings and a career-high 10 strikeouts while giving up only three hits.

“It was awesome. It was awesome going out there and going as long as I can, but with this group of guys, I think it’s expected,” Kingham said. “So we’re just going to keep moving forward and build off it.”

The second game of the series brought with it some drama and late-inning fireworks. After grabbing, losing, re-grabbing and re-losing the lead, Texas ended the day with a bang. Sophomore outfielder Austin Todd called ballgame in the bottom of the ninth with a moon shot to left field, giving the Longhorns a 5-3 win. The walk-off homerun sent fans into a frenzy and left Todd’s face covered in shaving cream and grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Personally, it was my first-time ever to hit a walk-off,” Todd said. “And it’s probably one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had playing baseball.”

The most eye-catching offensive revelation of the weekend may have been from Texas’ two and three-hole hitters — junior infielder Masen Hibbeler and Clemens, who are each batting at or above .500.

“I think (we) can go a long way,” Clemens said. “Masen’s the type of dude — he’s got the type of mindset (to be special). He’s going to be a stud all year. I know that if I keep this consistency, us two are going to produce.”

Pierce’s overall takeaways from the weekend were positive. He believes his team is right where it needs to be, even though it couldn’t close out the series with a sweep.

“You’ve got to build off of this,” Pierce said. “It’s a good, quality team. They’re picked to win the Sun Belt. Sure, we’d want the sweep. We’d like to finish. We just couldn’t get a clutch hit, and (we) made a couple of mistake pitches.”

The Longhorns will take to the diamond on Wednesday when they face Lamar at home before heading to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to play LSU in a weekend series. First pitch at Disch-Falk Field on Wednesday will be at 7:30 p.m.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Louisiana-Lafayette might want to think again about pitching to Austin Todd.

In a 3-3 contest in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Ragin’ Cajuns intentionally walked junior third baseman Kody Clemens in order to get to the outfielder.

Todd felt disrespected — and he let everybody know.

The junior proceeded to belt a walk-off homer over the left-field wall, giving Texas a dramatic 5-3 victory, the Longhorns’ second consecutive win to start the season.

“I love when I have to play with a chip on my shoulder and when people don’t respect what I can do,” Todd said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone. This is my first-ever walk-off, and this is one of my favorite feelings I’ve ever had playing baseball.”

Todd was the savior of a team that looked to be on the verge of a collapse. Leading 2-1 heading into the ninth inning, Texas unraveled, surrendering two runs to the Ragin’ Cajuns.

But the Longhorns returned to the dugout convinced that they still had the game in hand. Sophomore outfielder Duke Ellis got the rally started with a single to start the bottom of the ninth. He was knocked in by junior infielder Masen Hibbeler. Two batters later, Todd launched the shot that sent the Longhorn faithful into a frenzy.

“The resiliency of this team was outstanding today,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “After a brutal top of the ninth, guys had to execute and get things done. Nobody said, ‘Oh no, here we go.’ We just kept playing.”

Louisiana-Lafayette got the game’s scoring started, getting its first run of the series in the first inning. The frame began with an error by Clemens, whose errant throw to first allowed the Lafayette leadoff hitter to reach second on a slow roller down the left-field line.

Two batters later, junior pitcher Chase Shugart surrendered an RBI double to right field.

But the Longhorns did not trail for long, tying the game in the bottom of the first. In an inning with no hits, the team relied on the legs of sophomore infielder David Hamilton to manufacture a run.

Hamilton led the inning off with a walk and proceeded to steal second. The shortstop then darted to third after a passed ball and found his way home after beating out a play at the plate following a grounder to first.

Texas took its first lead in the fifth inning. Hamilton got things started with a single up the middle and, again, stole second. Clemens knocked in the run with an RBI single to the right two batters later to give the Longhorns a 2-1 advantage. That score held up until the wild ninth inning.

After a strong performance from junior pitcher Nolan Kingham on Friday night, the Longhorns’ starting pitching continued to shine. In 6.2 innings of work, Shugart finished with no walks and zero earned runs, allowing only three hits along the way. This was Shugart’s first career start for the team.

“I really commanded the fastball well today,” Shugart said. “After watching Nolan (Kingham) dominate with his fastball last night, I came into here with the attitude of, ‘Here it is, see if you can beat me.’”  

If the Longhorns continue their trend of strong pitching and resilient hitting, the team will be tough to beat. Texas will go for the series sweep of Louisiana-Lafayette on Sunday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, with the first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m.