Baseball falls in Big 12 Tournament opener to West Virginia, faces OU Thursday

27 May By
College World Series
2021 Texas Longhorns Phillips Big 12 Championship
The Texas Longhorns find themselves in an elimination game Thursday after falling, 5-1, to West Virginia in the opening game of the Pphillips 66 Big 12 Tournament (photo courtesy texassports.com).

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Less than a week after taking two of three against West Virginia in the final series of the regular season, the top-seeded Texas baseball team was stunned Wednesday by the eighth-seeded Mountaineers, 5-1, at the Phillips 66 Big 12 Tournament at Oklahoma City's Bricktown Ballpark.

It was UT's first contest at the tournament, and the loss puts the Longhorns in a 12:30 p.m. elimination game Thursday against Oklahoma.

WVU pitcher Jackson Wolf was the story of the game, as he mowed down the powerful Texas offense. Despite struggling in the final two innings, with a pitch count that surged to 138 by the contest's end, West Virginia's ace fired a complete game, allowing just one earned run in the process.

That one run for the Longhorns came in the sixth inning in the form of a home run from left fielder Eric Kennedy, who drove a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall.

Kennedy went 1-for-3 on the day, and perhaps, in a statistic that defined UT's day at the plate, not one Longhorn posted a multi-hit effort. Center fielder Mike Antico, first baseman Zach Zubia, right fielder Douglas Hodo, and shortstop Trey Faltine, along with Kennedy, were responsible for Texas' mere five hits on the day.

Wolf seemed untouchable early on, allowing just one hit through the first five innings. He also had excellent command, walking only Texas second baseman Mitchell Daly during that same period of time. The left-hander finished his day with five walks, including two in the seventh, but it never changed the course of the game.

That is not to say Texas did not have its chances, though. Perhaps the most clear opportunity Texas had to score late came in the seventh, as the Longhorns loaded the bases with two outs. Designated hitter Ivan Melendez began the frame by drawing a walk on a 3-2 count, but was thrown out on a fielder's choice as third baseman Cam Williams reached base in the following at-bat. A base hit from Hodo followed, advancing Williams to second. But Williams was picked off in a controversial call for the inning's second out. Even with two outs, Texas showed signs of its high-level, two-out hitting, as Faltine lined a single to left field that placed runners on the corners. The shortstop stole second with catcher Silas Ardoin at the plate, and Ardoin's walk on an eight-pitch at-bat loaded the bases for Kennedy, who had homered the inning before.

Though Kennedy swung hard on a 1-0 pitch, he got under the ball, popping out to third base as Texas saw a prime opportunity dash away.

The lack of offense was a key component in Texas' loss, especially because Longhorn starter Ty Madden gave up just three hits. While he kept his hit count low, and limited walks with just two, he did allow three earned runs, which dug Texas into an early hole as the bats sputtered. The first came on a solo homer from Mountaineer first baseman Hudson Byorick in the top of the second, and a sacrifice fly and wild pitch gave West Virginia an early 3-0 advantage. To compound the challenges for Texas, freshman reliever Tanner Witt, who entered the game with a 2.21 earned run average, limped through 1-2/3 innings to close out the contest, giving up two runs in the process. As the Mountaineers pulled away, UT's admittance into the losers' bracket of the double-elimination tournament seemed set.

It is now either win-or-go-home on Thursday for the Longhorns; a victory would propel Texas into a matchup against the loser of the contest between West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

The last time Texas faced the Sooners, during the second week of Big 12 play March 26-28, Texas took two of three games, with two of the contests decided by one run.

Thursday's game will air at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

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