FORT WORTH, Texas — Pete Hansen lived up to the hype.
In his first weekend start of the season Sunday, the Texas left-hander fired seven scoreless innings against the Big 12's top offense, as sixth-ranked Texas earned a 9-3 victory over No. 3 TCU and a critical series win.
Texas won Friday's series opener, 5-4, and TCU evened the series with a 2-1 victory Saturday afternoon, before the Longhorns rolled over the Horned Frogs in the series finale.
The series win moved Texas to 15-6 in Big 12 play, but it was not enough to catch the first-place Horned Frogs, who lead the standings with a 16-5 conference mark.
But Texas head coach David Pierce spoke of the importance of achieving a series win on the road against the nation's No. 3 team noting that he feels UT's NCAA Tournament résumé "is as good as anybody's in the country."
"We've taken care of business, we're in a good spot right now," Pierce said on the radio following Sunday's win. "I feel really confident about what's going to happen this week and how they select all the stuff. I'm proud of our kids, and (we) kind of keep that big picture to ourselves, but at the same time, (we) understand what we play for. We're still a game back, but at the same time, we still have opportunity to win our first championship."
Ty Madden toed the rubber in the series opener, and kept Texas in the game for six innings, striking out five and allowing eight base runners. He did give up three runs, two of which were earned, but left the contest with no decision with Texas leading, 4-3. Tanner Witt, who pitched in the seventh and eighth innings, picked up the victory to move to 3-0 on the season.
Texas scored first Friday night, as center fielder Mike Antico led off with a double down the left field line, and was driven in by first baseman Zach Zubia's triple to the right-center field gap.
TCU tied the game, 1-1, in the bottom of the first. Catcher Zach Humphreys was the first Horned Frog to reach base in the contest, as his hard-hit grounder to third was misfired by Texas third baseman Cam Williams with two outs. The error resulted in a run, when Humphreys stole third and scored on a single by first baseman Gene Wood.
The game was still tied, 2-2 entering the fifth inning, after Texas catcher Silas Ardoin scored on a fourth-inning double by shortstop Trey Faltine double in the fourth. TCU's Conner Shepherd tripled in the bottom half of the fame, coming around to score on a groundout by right fielder Phillip Sikes.
The story of the game was written in the final two innings. With the score knotted, 4-4, in the eighth, the Longhorns earned their fourth and final lead of the contest, as Antico sent an 0-1 pitch from TCU reliever Drew Hill over the right-center field wall for a solo home run. Hill took the loss, his first of the season.
With his team clinging to a 5-4 lead, Pierce turned to Aaron Nixon in the bottom of ninth. TCU had placed runners on first and second with no outs, and was a base hit away from tying the score. But Nixon made sure that didn't happen, striking out two and inducing a high flyball to left field that Eric Kennedy dove and caught for the game's final out. The save was Nixon's seventh of the season.
TCU turned the tables Saturday as UT's late-game comeback fell short. Trailing, 2-1, in the ninth, Texas rattled off two hits, the second coming from second baseman Mitchell Daly, to put runners on first and second with two outs. But the rally was abruptly ended when Zubia struck out looking on a 1-2 count.
Oddly enough, Zubia was responsible for driving in Texas' only run of the contest, though he did not register an RBI. He flied out to center field in the third, but as Daly and Antico attempted to tag from first and second, respectively, the throw to the infield was off target, allowing Antico to score on the error.
Both of TCU's runs came in the second, on a base hit by designated hitter Porter Brown that scored runners from second and third with two outs.
With the exception of the second inning, Texas starter Tristan Stevens had little trouble with TCU's offense. He tossed seven innings, allowing six hits and a single walk. TCU starter Austin Krob stretched his unblemished season record to 7-0, allowing three more baserunners, giving up the same number of hits as Stevens in 5-2/3 innings, along with four walks.
Sunday's finale was the complete opposite of the first two games in the series. The Longhorns jumped out to a 9-0 advantage in the sixth inning before a shaky performance their bullpen allowed TCU to score a trio of runs in the ninth.
Though Texas scored nine runs, including four in the first three frames, Hansen was the key to the series-clinching win. He allowed more walks (three) than hits (two), and fanned four Horned Frog batters.
"He went out there and did what he does: he pounds that zone," Pierce said. "He throws the slider and he can command his fastball in and out. He also threw some good changeups."
Four relievers struggled over the final two innings. TCU scored three runs in the final inning, all of which came on a three-run homer from pinch hitter Bobby Goodloe, before Nixon once again closed out the contest with two strikeouts and a game-ending groundout. By that point, the result of the contest already was decided, solidified by three home runs, two of which came off the bat of Zubia.
"I would be lying if I said I wasn't upset about yesterday," Zubia said on the radio following Sunday's win. "We had a lot of opportunities but we didn't come through there at the very end. This win was amazing. Coming in here, and winning a series against a top-five team, you can't beat that.
"I think we did a good job of staying within ourselves and not trying to do too much in a game that truly mattered."
Zubia was 3-for-5 at the plate in the series finale, with four runs batted in. He went 5-for-10 on the series, with multi-hit performances Friday and Sunday.
Texas hosts Texas Southern at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in a game that can be seen on Longhorn Network, and will take the weekend off before finishing the season at home with a three-game Big 12 series against West Virginia May 20-22.