The Longhorns' final non-conference game of the regular season was recently added to fill the gap in the team's Open Week in league play. Even so, Texas strengthened its grip atop the conference standings courtesy of Oklahoma's 5-0 thumping of Missouri in Columbia. It means the magic number is now '2': a pair of Texas wins against Texas A&M, or one Longhorn win combined with another Tiger loss, keeps the conference crown in Austin. (Texas' Big 12 mark stands at 18-6 while Missouri fell to 15-8).
As important, NCAA homerun leader Kyle Russell returned to RF after leaving the Missouri game in the sixth inning last Sunday with a wrist injury.
Freshman DH Russell Moldenhaur enjoyed career bests after he went 3-for-3 at the plate, driving in four runs including his fifth round-tripper of the season. The Horns notched nine hits and committed no errors to raise their overall record to 39-14. Saturday's lopsided affair -- Texas jumped to a 10-0 before freshman RHP Josh Prince surrendered a four-spot in the seventh -- was as much a tune-up for next weekend's regular season finale as it was for love of the game.
"It was all about playing within yourself and keeping your commitment to playing the game at the highest level you possibly can," head coach Augie Garrido said. "I thought we did that."
By design, Texas sent six pitchers to the mound. Garrido's plan was to give each of his starting pitchers a couple of innings of work. RHP James Russell, typically the Friday night starter, was the designated starter before Adrian Alaniz took the mound in the top of the third. Both surrendered a hit in splitting the first four innings, with Russell notching three strikeouts and Alaniz fanning two. Russell would be officially credited with his ninth win of the season but Garrido's ad hoc scoring system would give the win to closer Randy Boone (who retired the side in order in the ninth).
"You have to keep things as much fun as you can," Garrido told Inside Texas. "We played a game within the game with the pitchers. When you have a game where you pre-determine the innings, you can decide at the end who is the winner. Rather than have one of the coaches pick the winner, because that's a lose-lose deal, what we did -- before the game -- was to create a pool of pitchers to decide the win. Pitchers had to get 'zeroes' for the innings assigned to them. So, Russell had to get two 'zeroes', which he did. Alaniz had to get two 'zeroes', which he did. (Joseph) Krebs got a 'zero' with his inning-and-a-third. Boone got his inning with a 'zero.' That created a pool of pitchers and the high card then win. Boone won with an ace of clubs."
Bottom line: Texas scored all the runs it would need during its first at-bat.
Jordan Danks got things started with a leadoff double and scored following 3B Lloyd Donaldson's throwing error. Bradley Suttle's RBI-sacrifice fly made it a 2-0 ballgame. Moldenhaur's RBI single plated Chance Wheeless for the third run of the contest.
The Horns sent 10 batters to the plate in the home half of the third to blow this one open. Russell's leadoff double, followed by a walk and a hit batsman, loaded the bases with no outs in the Longhorn fourth. Preston Clark drew a bases-loaded walk before Moldenhaur's sacrifice fly made it 5-0 contest. Donaldson's second error of the afternoon plated Bradley Suttle. The Golden Lions' made their first pitching change after Nick Peoples singled to left to load the bases again. Travis Tucker drove the first pitch he saw -- an outside fastball -- into center field for a two-run single. It was now an 8-0 runaway.
LHP Austin Wood took the mound for his fifteen minutes of fame in the top of the fifth. The sophomore retired the side in order after issuing a leadoff single. Moldenhaur's leadoff homer over the right field wall in the home half of the frame was his fifth of the season and made it 9-0.
Garrido replaced seven of his defensive starters in the seventh. But Prince didn't last the inning after surrendering three hits and three walks. Krebs came on to record the final out with his first K of the afternoon but not before Prince was saddled with four runs. By then, the announced crowd of 4,566 had headed for the parking lots. They would miss backup C Brett Lewis' highlight reel diving catch to help Boone retire the side in order in the ninth.
Friday's showdown is set for a 6:05 p.m. first-pitch in College Station before the three-game series switches to Austin.