Texas starts season by sweeping doubleheader against Duke

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After blanking Duke in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, Texas got off to a sloppy start in Game 2.

Junior pitcher Hoby Milner induced three straight groundouts in the first inning but hit the leadoff batter in the second frame. The next Blue Devils hitter doubled before a throwing error by sophomore Erich Weiss allowed Duke to score two runs and the Longhorns to fall behind for the first time this season.

But Texas didn’t trail for long as it took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second inning, thanks to a two-run double by sophomore right fielder Mark Payton and an RBI sac fly from freshman second baseman Brooks Marlow. Milner lasted five innings while allowing four hits and three runs, striking out three to pick up the win as the Longhorns triumphed over the Blue Devils, 5-3, and swept the season-opening doubleheader.

“The best thing about the second game was the instinctive response to going behind,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido. “If it intimidates a team, you’ll see it. If it doesn’t and they respond to it, well, you saw it. Now that’s good a sign.”

Texas was the beneficiary of several Duke miscues in the fourth inning. Sophomore shortstop Christian Summers drew a four-pitch walk, which was followed by a single from senior center fielder Tim Matiland. Just a .206 hitter last year, Maitland filled in for junior Cohl Walla, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month, and went 3-for-6 between the two contests.

Marlow, who hit a pair of homeruns in Game 1, and Weiss each drew walks to push another run across the plate. After Blue Devils starting pitcher Trent Stewart, a true freshman making his college baseball debut was pulled, a passed ball allowed another run to score as the Longhorns took a commanding 5-2 lead.

Freshman pitcher Parker French also made his college debut Saturday, throwing three innings of scoreless relief for Texas after taking over for Milner in the sixth inning. The most impressive moment of French’s outing came when he got out of an eighth-inning bases-loaded jam by striking out Duke shortstop Matt Berezo. Then, sophomore Corey Knebel, who tied a school record with 19 saves, picked up his second save of the day by retiring the side in the ninth inning.

“At first, I think the nerves kind of got to me,” French said. “For a second, I thought they were [going to take me out.] That was huge to see the confidence they had in me in that situation. That’s just going to bring me more confidence down the road.”

Payton and Maitland, listed at 5’8” and 5’11”, respectively, led the way for the Longhorns offensively in the second game. Maitland, batting in the ninth spot of the Texas lineup, went 2-for-4 and scored twice while Payton, the Longhorns’ leadoff batter, went 3-for-4 and drove in two runs.

Texas caps off its series against Duke Sunday at noon, when freshman John Curtiss starts on the mound for the Longhorns and tries to help them sweep the Blue Devils.