Ivan Melendez powers UT baseball to sweep of Kansas State

11 Apr By
TEAM SHOP - Spring Gear
Designated hitter Ivan Melendez went deep again Sunday — he has hit seven home runs in his last six games, and now leads the Longhorns with eight — to help UT complete a series sweep of Kansas State with a 13-6 win (photo courtesy of texassports.com).

AUSTIN, Texas — Designated hitter Ivan Melendez homered for the sixth consecutive game to lead the Texas baseball team to a 13-6 win at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, completing a three-game sweep of visiting Kansas State.

A series expected to be centered on pitching ended up centering on the bats, a brawl, and three high-scoring affairs as the Longhorns claimed their second straight sweep.

With the trio of victories, No. 4 Texas moves to 10-2 in Big 12 play and 25-8 on the season. The Wildcats, whose only two conference wins came last weekend over Texas Tech, dropped to 2-8 in Big 12 play and 17-14 overall.

The sweep sealed a full 2020-21 sweep for Texas athletics over K-State, as the Wildcats have not beaten Texas in any sport since the 2018-19 season.

The first game set the tone for the remainder of the series: in a head-to-head matchup between a pair of pitchers considered Major League Baseball prospects, UT's Ty Madden and K-State's Jordan Wicks, the Longhorns won a slugfest.

Each made it through six innings, but it was far from the pitchers' duel some expected. Wicks allowed 10 hits and four earned runs while striking out six. Madden had a slightly better performance, with just two earned runs and five hits, but was far from his typical strikeout numbers with two.

"I think there was 29 scouts in the stadium today, and it was supposed to be a pitchers' duel," Texas head coach David Pierce said. "That's the beauty of baseball. You never really know."

Neither starter's record was affected, but Texas rolled to a 13-6 victory behind an eight-run eighth. Aaron Nixon picked up the victory out of the bullpen for Texas, while KSU's Tyler Eckberg absorbed the loss, leaving each pitcher with a 2-2 record.

Perhaps what set the tone for the course of the contest was a play at the plate in the second inning. With the score knotted at one, Texas center fielder Mike Antico lofted a fly ball to deep center field. K-State center fielder Caleb Littlejim dove headfirst, but the ball bounced just in front of his outstretched glove and quickly skipped to the warning track. Antico, with plenty of speed, attempted an inside-the-park homer, but the throw from second base was on target, and Antico was out by several feet. With the ball in the catcher Chris Ceballos' glove, Antico continued his forward progress, and collided with Ceballos, and words were exchanged. A brawl quickly developed, with the entire K-State infield coming to Ceballos' aid, while UT's Cam Williams, Trey Faltine and Mitchell Daly got in on the action.

Williams, Faltine and Daly were ejected, and due to NCAA rules, were not allowed to play in Saturday's game.

"I think we could have handled it a little better," Pierce said. "Both teams could have handled it better. I though the crew was put in a tough predicament because it is the rule. We've got to live with it. (But) they should only be out one game."

Though not having three of its best hitters in the lineup was a challenge for Texas in Saturday's game, it did not hold back the Longhorns, who rolled to a 15-1 victory.

The Longhorns rattled off 13 hits, and took advantage of six walks, just as they did in midweek victories over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and Stephen F. Austin. Every player in the Texas lineup had at least one hit; Antico, Douglas Hodo III and Murphy Stehley each had two.

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Texas set the pace from its first at-bat, and K-State failed to keep up. Mike Antico homered to lead off the contest for the Horns in the bottom of the first, and the Horns never looked back, scoring a combined 12 runs in the third and fourth innings.

Much of the credit for the victory also goes to Texas starter Tristan Stevens, who allowed eight hits and struck out two over seven innings, allowing just one earned run while improving to 5-1. He kept his pitch count low, did not issue any walks and had just three two-ball counts over his entire outing.

In Sunday's series finale, Texas pounded out four multi-run innings and never trailed in a 9-2 victory.

Texas starter Kolby Kubichek fired a career-high seven innings, and looked good doing it, allowing one earned run, one walk and seven hits while striking out five to improve to 4-2 this season.

"We're really pumped up about the way Kolby attacked," Pierce said. "I think that's the one thing that we've been trying to get him much more comfortable (doing): attacking hitters, trusting his stuff."

The bullpen shut the Wildcats down offensively for the final two innings, as neither Pete Hansen nor Nixon allowed a single baserunner.

The offense continued to be free-flowing for the Horns, highlighted by Ivan Melendez, who went 2-for-3, drove in four and scored three runs.

Melendez has seven home runs in his last six games. Before April 3, he had hit just one homer all year, in the season opener against Mississippi State. Now he leads the Longhorns with eight.

"I think everybody is a little taken back," Pierce said of Melendez. "It's hard to believe that its been six games in a row that he's hit home runs. It's not like they are wind-aided, or he's just getting them over the wall. He's showing his true power."

Melendez is now just two games shy of tying the NCAA record for consecutive games with a home run. But he did not see too focused on individual accolades following Sunday's win.

"I don't really think about it. I just try to go out there, hit the ball, and help the team win," Melendez said.

The Horns now will play five straight non-conference games. Nevada will come to Austin for a two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday, with both games starting at 6:30 p.m. A three-game set against Abilene Christian at home concludes the 10-game homestand. All five games can be seen on Longhorn Network.

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