By Alexander Haynes
The interior battle of schools only separated by several miles of I-35 was a highly anticipated match for good reason. Both the University of Texas and Texas State have baseball teams with very similar statistical output and projection in their appropriate conferences. Thus, to win these kind of games, the batting lineup and pitching must equally create leverage plays by putting runners in advantageous stacks with minimal outs. The problem for the Bobcats, however, is after creating those leverage situations, and they utterly failed at capitalizing. Despite the fundamental box score looking similar (Longhorns: four hits, six walks, nine strikeouts, eight left on base; Bobcats: five hits, five walks, eight strikeouts, seven left on base), the Longhorns out-executed by bringing pressure to the Bobcats’ starting pitching staff.
Foreboding clouds and an awful weather outlook hung over the beginning of the game. Just as odd as the weather was, Wes Engle was starting off on an equally odd note by hitting Tate Shaw after six pitches. A wild pitch allowed Shaw to skip toward second, but Engle calmed down and left the first inning clean.
A type of confidence could be found within the Bobcats’ batters, epitomized by Luke Sherley as he singled on the second pitch. Equally awkward pitching from Longhorns’ Nico O’Donnell resulted in advancing Sherley to third on a wild pitch with one out. Jaylen Hubbard and Derek Scheible battled by staring at a combined 13 pitches and then walking. Thus, the Bobcats had loaded the bases with two outs, all off one hit.
And as quickly as that momentum was loaded, O’Donnell unloaded by forcing Dylan Paul to line out to short, center field. In irony of the quickly darkening clouds, the type of game playing out was clear: one of close calls and missed opportunities.
The second and third innings were beautiful orchestrations of pitching as O’Donnell and Engle faced three up, and three down. The calm was setting in after the first, but the balance in the air felt like the Bobcats were teetering on the precipice of disaster. After all, this was the narrative set in the previous weekend sweep at Coastal Carolina.
Unfortunately, the top of the fourth inning began a series of head-shaking events. Duke Ellis (a power hitter who would chase pitches the remainder of the night and strikeout three times) was hit on the first pitch, then advanced to second on the one confidence-shaking, dubious, and fateful event in baseball that all but tells a story before it even begins: the balk. Two batters later, the fate of the balk for Engle was coming to fruition as Ryan Reynolds was plunked. Masen Hibbeler singling to left would have been survivable, but a fielding error scored Ellis, putting the Longhorns up 1-0.
The bleeding was not yet over. Zach Zubia walking forced in another run and Engle out of the game. The contrast in Engle’s two previous innings to the fourth is the corruptible case of pitching in baseball due to one slip of confidence. Kyle Bradford came in for Engle but would not close the inning before an infield groundout scored Hibbeler to put the Longhorns up 3-0.
The Bobcats would go three batters up and three batters down in their fourth inning slot. However, between Hubbard, Scheible, and Paul, relief pitcher Parker Joe Robinson had to throw 18 pitches. Hope was still viable and only time was separating the comeback streak.
Seth Jordan was in charge of the fifth inning. Hitting Shaw and striking out Ellis would be his work for the day as the rain set in an hour and 14-minute rain delay. No matter, Braden Pearson put the finishing touch on and escaped the fifth and frustrating rain-delay cleanly. The Longhorns also escaped their fifth inning slot as Jared Huber grounded into a double play. Despite singles and taking pitch counts eight-long, the Bobcats were bouncing from highlights to lowlights.
As innings six and seven began playing out, the hope seen from those highlights was dimming. More and more batters were foregoing patience and their typical plate approach to swing at the first ‘adequate’ pitch, implicating pop and fly outs. The Longhorns’ eight innings separated the gap even further. After Hibbeler walked, David Hamilton sent a homerun down right-field, meters from the taunting foul pole.
The homerun was a haunting case of the power the Bobcats were not deriving as their eighth inning was two more drab fly outs and another fly out. No longer were battles going eight pitches long, but just two or three.
Shaw’s speedy plate presence in the ninth would haunt the Bobcats once more. After walking and stealing second, the team came to his aid, slowly advancing him around the base line in time for Reynolds to RBI single for the 6-0 lead.
The Longhorns may have known the game was coming to a close in the ninth. Instead of allowing Ryan Newman to tempt a comeback with a lead-off homerun, he was walked. Fortunately, that would be a mistake as he advanced to second with a wild pitch. Scheible would walk as well, putting two runners on with one out – and then a fly out from Paul put the bland note on the inning. Mickey Scott sent an RBI to left-field, ensuring the box score would not be holistically futile, although not relieving implications of the 1-6 loss.
The one non-contextual analytical line which paints the game might be the five hit-by-pitches from the Bobcats pitching staff. Despite that, the full analytical lines are similar out of context. In context, however, the Bobcats are a team poignantly intimidated by the balance teams such as the Longhorns bring. The habit of chasing the first ‘adequate’ pitch instead of going for the right pitch speaks toward desperation. And as long as they continually chase adequate pitches, the team’s record will remain equally average.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo Mendoza.