Shepherd saves day with late-game blast as offense awakens

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Tant Shepherd had had a rough night.

The senior was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts when he stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 11th inning of a 5-5 game. He had two runners in scoring position, but there were two outs. He quickly went down 0-2 in the count, and it looked like Kevin Clarke, UTSA’s pitcher, was about to hand him his fourth strikeout of the game. The odds were not in his favor.

The unexpected happened. Clarke threw him a pitch to hit, a curveball, and Shepherd turned on it and drove it deep to left field, about 340 feet — just long enough to clear the wall for a walk-off home run.

“It’s the most exciting thing that can happen to you in baseball,” Shepherd said. “You just try to control your emotions running around the bases so that you don’t look like an idiot or a fool.”

It was Texas’ second home run of the season. The first one came in the second inning, 364 at-bats into the season, when junior Jordan Etier hit one to left field, a little to the right of where Shepherd would hit his.

“You could see after once one happens, another one happens,” Etier said.

But both of them came as a surprise to Texas head coach Augie Garrido, who just last weekend talked about how his team would have to learn how to win without the long ball this year. The Texas team is dealing with a shortage of power hitters and a new NCAA-mandated bat that plays so much like a wooden bat, drastically reducing the distance of every hit, that it has made the long

ball an endangered species. “I was totally surprised by it,” Garrido said. “But most of the time this sport is determined by
the unexpected.”

Shepherd wasn’t fazed by the pressure or his previous failures at the plate.

“No matter what happens in the past, every pitch is a new moment,” Shepherd said. “We preach here that every inning is a new inning. I think repetition of that phrase helped me in that last at-bat.”

His coach could not have been more proud.

“You could see the will and determination he had in that last at-bat,” Garrido said. “He battled.”

Shepherd’s dramatic three-run shot saved his team Tuesday night. It was neither expected nor predicted. In fact, it was the most unlikely way the Longhorns could have won the game, as a single or a sacrifice bunt or fly is the way they’re accustomed to scoring runs.

“One of the mystiques of the game is that the unexpected plays a huge role in success,” Garrido said.

And on a night when the odds were stacked against Garrido, Shepherd and the Longhorns, they’ll take a win in any
fashion. Expected or not.