Baseball claims Big 12 title in series win over West Virginia

23 May By
College World Series
Texas starter Pete Hansen led the Longhorns past West Virginia Sunday, sealing the Big 12 regular-season championship for the Longhorns (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — The pro-burnt orange crowd at UFCU Disch-Falk Field let out a huge roar when it was announced that Kansas State had defeated TCU Saturday. But that cheer was nothing in comparison to the crowd's excitement when Texas first baseman Zach Zubia hit a run-rule walk-off of his own, giving Texas a 12-2 victory at UFCU Disch-Falk Field over West Virginia to claim the Big 12 title.

Texas headed into the season finale trailing the Horned Frogs by a game in the Big 12 standings, but the Horns' win, combined with the Horned Frogs' loss, resulted in the rivals finishing the regular season at 17-7 in conference action, as each team won a share of the conference's regular season title.

The series opened with a 5-4 UT loss that was due as much to West Virginia's hitting as instant replay, as a controversial call in the seventh inning against Texas changed the course of the game. With one out, Texas third baseman Cam Williams stood on third base, waiting for an opportunity to dash home. That chance came on an errant pitch from WVU reliever Jacob Watters, but as Williams broke from third, Mountaineer catcher Matt McCormick fielded a hard bounce that richoted off the siding behind home plate. As McCormick flipped it to Watters, Williams dove across the plate ... and was called safe by home plate umpire Doug Williams.

The score was knotted at 5-5, but not for long, as the umpires went to instant replay to determine the correct call. The call at home plate was overturned, keeping WVU in front.

That was UT's final scoring opportunity, as the Longhorns were held to just one hit over the final two innings.

An uncharacteristic outing by Texas starter Ty Madden also contributed to the loss, as Madden allowed four earned runs and seven hits in six innings, picking up the loss to drop his record to 6-3. After tallying two quick outs in the top of the first, Madden gave up a single followed by a home run off the bat of Nathan Blasnick that gave WVU an early 2-0 advantage.

Texas countered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the opening frame, but never led in the contest. Williams accounted for three of Texas' eight hits on the day, going 3-for-4 with two runs batted in and a walk.

The second game was significantly different from the series opener, both in its high-scoring nature and the fact that Texas came out on top. The Longhorns kept their Big 12 title hopes alive Friday evening, pouncing all over WVU's pitching staff to win handily, 14-3. Shortstop Trey Faltine homered for Texas in the second, giving the Horns an early 2-0 lead, and the momentum built from there. A five-run third followed by a five-run fourth all but sealed Texas' triumph, with the Longhorns taking a commanding 12-0 lead as the fifth inning began. RBI doubles by center fielder Mike Antico and designated hitter Ivan Melendez were the beginning of Texas' offensive outburst, as the hosts tallied eight hits between the two innings. Texas did not hit a single home run in either the third or fourth inning, but displayed a great sense of situational hitting to slowly pull away from the Mountaineers.

Williams once again went 3-for-4 and Faltine, Antico and second baseman Mitchell Daly each rattled off two hits.

Texas starter Tristan Stevens picked up the victory to improve to 8-3, once again proving his worth, going eight innings on the mound, allowing just eight hits and three earned runs, striking out four and walking two.

The Horns' offense continued to excel on senior day Saturday afternoon, as patches of heavy rain failed to slow the Texas bats down. WVU struck first, however, pushing across one run in the top of the first on a sacrifice fly by Paul McIntosh. Texas starter Pete Hansen (7-1), still relatively new in his role as the game three starter, allowed two hits in the opening inning. But those two hits proved to be the only two he allowed during his six-inning start, with only one earned run and six strikeouts.

With Hansen limiting WVU's chances at the plate, the Longhorn offense went to work, and sent Mountaineer starter Adam Tulloch to the showers midway through the second. He failed to tally an out in the second, however, as four walks and a hit led to three Texas runs in the inning. From that point forward, the Longhorns were in control, adding four in the third and two more in the fourth.

Left fielder Eric Kennedy, who went 3-for-4 on the day, swatted UT's lone homer of the afternoon, with a three-run blast in the third to extend the advantage to 6-1. It was the first of three runs scored for the junior, who also crossed the plate on a wild pitch in the fourth and scored his team's final run of the regular season when he tagged from third on a sacrifice fly by Zubia that allowed Texas to run-rule WVU, ending the game.

"To hoist the Big 12 trophy ... holy cow — how about that?" Zubia said. "These guys deserve it. This team deserves it."

Texas also had quality relief appearances from Lucas Gordon and Cole Quintanilla, who closed out the contest. Gordon allowed two hits and a run in two-thirds of an inning of work, and Quintanilla did not surrender a hit over the final 1-1/3 innings.

Saturday may have not been the last time Texas faces the Mountaineers. WVU is the No. 8 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, and will play No. 9 seed Kansas in the first round May 25, with the winner set to play Texas May 26.

Texas finished the regular season with a 40-13 record overall and a 17-7 mark in Big 12 play.

Riley Zayas is a high school sophomore and freelance journalist from Round Rock, Texas. He began his journalism career as a Sports Illustrated Kids reporter and has since become a regular contributor to Horns Illustrated, covering Texas Longhorn sports. His work also includes Fellowship of Christian Athletes publications, College Baseball Nation and Sports Spectrum, a national christian sports website. He currently serves as the Managing Editor of True To The Cru, covering UMHB athletics. Twitter: @ZayasRiley