Longhorns beat Cardinal with pitching performance, unyielding defensive play

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Series finales against top-10 teams are rarely this easy.

The sixth-ranked Longhorns (7-4) made a 4-2 win over No. 9 Stanford (6-5) look simple, playing the entirety of the game with a lead and capitalizing on blunders to grab the weekend series from the visiting Cardinal 2-1.

Junior lefty Sam Stafford (2-0) breezed through the first half of the game, striking out seven batters in five innings of work. When fatigue and the Stanford batters finally started hitting Stafford — rendering a bases-loaded situation in the top of the sixth — senior reliever Kendal Carrillo offered some help, striking out Stanford’s dangerous Brian Ragira, who was 3-for-4 on the day, and inducing a groundout to end the inning.

“I got into a little bit of trouble in the sixth inning, so it was nice for Kendal to come in and bail me out,” Stafford said. “The pitching hhstaff has never had any questions about our bullpen.”

The Texas bullpen came up big towards the end of the game, but its offense set the tone Sunday, plating an early run in the second when sophomore Cohl Walla scored off a wild pitch with two outs. It was a sign of things to come, as Walla would be the recipient of many a Stanford gaffe.

With one out in the sixth inning, Walla stroked a lazy fly ball to center field, where it looked like it would be caught for the second out. Stanford’s Jake Stewart lost it in the sun, and the ball fell harmlessly to the turf. The speedy Walla was already on his way to second — a coach’s example to always run out the play, no matter how routine it might be — and turned what looked like harmless fly ball into a triple.

“I was rounding first, and I took a look at the outfielders, and they just looked kind of clueless so I just kept running hard,” he said.

From third, Walla would score on a passed ball — another easy run for Texas.

“A couple pitches got away from them,” he said. “I just ran down there and beat them to home both times.”

A day after a 9-2 Saturday loss to Stanford in which their bats were quiet throughout, the Longhorns made a point to jump out to a quick lead Sunday.

“You can see what the four-run lead did, it relaxes the hitters,” said head coach Augie Garrido. “When you have big leads, that’s when these kids relax and play better defense.”

Junior shortstop Brandon Loy was also key to the lead, going 2-for-4 with a fifth-inning RBI.

“We have to come out and get runs early,” Loy said. “There were definitely a few more opportunities we had where we could have scratched out a couple more, and that’s something we have to continue working on.”

Things would get a bit unnerving in the top of the eighth inning when Stanford pushed two runs across, but freshman Corey Knebel came out of the bullpen and silenced the Cardinal comeback hopes. Needing just one more out with a man on first in the top of the ninth, Knebel got Stephen Piscotty to hit a high, lazy fly ball to center field, where it would fall into Walla’s glove for an appropriately easy final out.