OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — With a runner on third, two outs in an elimination game, and a freshman pitcher on the mound, Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark was alive even as the clock drew to within 15 minutes of midnight.
With fans clapping, and fight music playing, Texas pitcher Tanner Witt toed the rubber for quite possibly the biggest at-bat of his short collegiate career, and delivered.
On a 2-2 count, Witt induced a swinging strikeout from WVU left fielder Braden Berry to end the game, and kept alive UT's run in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament with a 3-2 win over West Virginia.
It was the second time the top-seeded Longhorns had faced the eighth-seeded Mountaineers in Oklahoma City; Texas fell, 5-1, on Wednesday.
In order to advance to the Big 12 Championship game, Texas will need to beat No. 4 seed Oklahoma State twice Saturday. The first game is set for 12:30 p.m., and will be carried on BIG 12 NOW ON ESPN+.
Texas scored first, however, as shortstop Trey Faltine crossed the plate on a wild pitch in the third to give the Horns an early 1-0 advantage. The inning began with walks on 3-2 counts from both Faltine and catcher Silas Ardoin, before left fielder Eric Kennedy was hit by a pitch with two outs that loaded the bases. With first baseman Zach Zubia at the plate, the high pitch was unable to be caught by West Virginia catcher Paul McIntosh. It did bounce off the backstop, and back to McIntosh, but not in time to record the out.
As thrilling as that play was for Texas, it paled in comparison to Ardoin's key double in the sixth inning. Still trailing, 2-1, and having not tallied their first hit until an Ivan Melendez single in the fifth, the Horns were desperate for a breakthrough opportunity. With the runners, on first and second, in motion on a 1-1 pitch, Ardoin drilled a double down the right field line. The two-bagger scored both Faltine and right fielder Douglas Hodo, as the Longhorns took the lead for good, by a score of 3-2.
Witt displayed composure after a walk that ultimately allowed West Virginia pinch runner Ben Abernathy to reach third before Witt closed out the contest with a pair of strikeouts.
Pitching was a constant for Texas Friday evening, beginning with starter Pete Hansen, who allowed six hits and a pair of runs over 6-2/3 innings. Both of those runs came in the top of the fifth on a single through the left side of the infield off the bat of WVU designated hitter, giving the Mountaineers a 2-1 lead.
"We just hadn't been able to do anything, and Silas is our best hit-and-run guy," Pierce said postgame. "We had the right guys on the bases and I was like, 'We've got to push the button a little bit.'"
Ardoin's double was made more significant by the fact that the Horns had seen their scoring opportunity slip into the night just two innings earlier. Walks to second baseman Mitchell Daly, third baseman Cam Williams and Ardoin loaded the bases for center fielder Mike Antico with two outs in the fourth. Antico drove a 1-0 pitch deep to right field, but West Virginia right fielder Austin Davis stood in the way, reeling in a highlight-reel grab that ended the inning.
"When he made that catch, we didn't crater," Pierce said. "We didn't allow them to take the momentum. They did pick up two runs, but we never panicked and that's what I love about this team."
Over the final three innings, the Texas pitching maintained the lead. Hansen, who improved his record to 8-1, notched the first two outs of the seventh before leaving with a standing ovation as Witt stepped on to the hill. The freshman right-hander did not allow a hit in 2-1/3 innings of work, striking out four and walking two.
Offensively, the Longhorn offense was stagnant, with just three hits, but stepped up when it mattered. Melendez, Faltine and Ardoin each had a hit, with Ardoin tallying Texas' lone extra-base hit of the evening. The Horns were helped by 10 walks.
Pierce said that who will start Saturday against OSU has not yet been determined.