Role player comes off bench, delivers in clutch

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Tim Maitland did a Superman slide headfirst into home plate, arms outstretched and artificial turf pellets flying up all around him, to score the dramatic game-winning run in the bottom of the 14th inning against Kansas State.

It sure was a big difference from how he began the day. For most of the season, he’s been a seldom-used role player. On Sunday, Tim Maitland got to play hero.

In most outings, Maitland starts and finishes the game in the Texas dugout. No catching fly balls in the outfield grass, just cheering for his teammates. No hitting, just handing out high fives. In 20 games all year, the junior outfielder has registered only two starts, to go with a handful of pinch-hitting appearances.

“It’s never easy sitting around in the dugout,” he said.

Maitland did a lot of sitting, standing and pacing Sunday, until the eighth inning — finally getting his number called as a pinch-hitter for Paul Montalbano. He worked the count to 3-1, and then advanced to first after getting hit by Wildcat Jake Doller’s pitch.

Two innings later, still in a 5-5 tie, Maitland grounded out to second. He got another chance as the game continued, registering his first hit of the season in the bottom of the 12th. But the Longhorns’ rally fizzled as Erich Weiss struck out to end the inning.

Then came Maitland’s moment. In the 14th inning of a game that lasted four and a half hours, he came up to bat with two outs and nobody on. He hit the first pitch he saw to left field, his second hit of the season.

Maitland would score from first, two pitches later on a Brandon Loy double that just stayed fair down the right-field line.

“I thought it was a routine fly ball, so I was just running my hardest with two outs. I saw Coach [Tommy] Harmon wave me in, and I had no idea where the ball was, so I was just running my hardest,” Maitland said. “I saw Mark Payton behind home plate throwing his hands down telling me to slide. So I just slid in, and we won.”

Texas head coach Augie Garrido has been more willing to give reserves like Maitland more opportunities based on their hard work in practice.

“His performance is a reflection of his hard work in practice. It’s why he got the start the other day,” Garrido said, referring to Maitland’s second start of the year Saturday. “He works hard every day.”

Maitland started opening day as the leadoff batter because Garrido said he had earned it in the offseason. That day, he was 0-for-4 at the plate. Between then and Sunday, Maitland would only start one other game, spending the rest of the season chained to the dugout with a few rare plate appearances. But his most recent game made it all worth it.

“It felt really good to just get out there and play the game,” he said.