The rock music blared so loud over the speakers at UFCU Disch-Falk Field that Augie Garrido could barely be heard above the din with his post-game remarks.
The Texas baseball coach shrugged and said, “At least it’s not rap.”
That was one of the few bright sides in a 5-3 loss to Sacramento State on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon that ended the Longhorns’ win streak at, uh, one. This one was a mixed bag, complete with both promise and pratfall, but there’s zero shame in losing to an excellent West Coast team with experience, handiwork that a pickpocket would envy and at least one future major-leaguer.
So save the angry backlash.
At least, until March.
No one figured Texas would go undefeated this season, and there wasn’t a lot to send negative alarms through Longhorn Nation. The locals didn’t play badly, but the visitors played better.
“We’re not supposed to be the same as everyone else,” Garrido said. “We’re supposed to be better. But we’re not not a mature, experienced team yet.”
In summary, Texas lost to a veteran team that won its first Western Athletic Conference championship last season and played like it. Texas fell because its starting pitcher didn’t last four innings. The Horns evened their record at 1-1 because Hornets starter Brennan Leitao pitched them into an offensive lull in the middle innings and combined with two relievers to keep Texas from a single extra-base hit and only one clutch hit after the fifth inning besides pinch-hitter Brooks Marlow’s leadoff single in the ninth.
If it weren’t February, the hometown faithful might be scared to death by No. 2 starter Nathan Thornhill’s inability to do better than a linescore of four runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. “Not an ideal outing,” said the junior right-hander, who’s still trying to develop a reliable curve ball to go with his changeup and fastball. “Skip (Johnson, pitching coach) told me not to be mad. I disagreed with him a little bit.”
Coupled with All-America closer Corey Knebel’s disastrous outing in Friday’s win when he allowed two hits and two walks and didn’t retire a batter, pitching concerns might be at the top of the list except that three relief newcomers Cameron Cox, Travis Duke and Chad Hollingsworth threw very well with five innings of one-run ball. The left-handed Duke was downright magnificent, throwing 18 strikes in 20 pitches. “That’s huge for us,” Garrido said of the bullpen.
If the schedule didn’t say Sunday’s would be only the third game of the season, hardcore cynics would be covering their eyes rather than watch a team that’s already committed four errors in two games. Three of them belong to freshman shortstop C.J. Hinojosa, who sat out for more than a year because of shaky academics and shoulder surgery and has some rust.
“We called (Brandon) Loy,” Garrido cracked, referring to his former All-America shortstop. “He won’t come back. C.J.’s a quality shortstop. Let’s give him a little time before we condemn him.”
Hinojosa’s still raw at this level but also the victim of some misfortune. He made one of his two miscues Saturday on a wild throw after a great diving stop behind the bag and the other when he rushed to get the ball out of his glove on a double-play chance and failed to even retire the lead runner.
“It was rough,” Hinojosa said, “but I know I can make those plays. I’m just going to turn the page.”
Third baseman Madison Carter made play after play in his new spot after arriving from Grayson County College and also had an RBI single. With Erich Weiss moving from third to second and shortstop Codey McElroy shifting to first, Garrido has an entirely new infield to go with juco transfer Weston Hall in center. Weiss made several nice defensive plays at second, and left fielder Taylor Stell began the game by laying out and spearing a line drive for an out.
Defense shouldn’t be the issue it was a year ago. Offensively, Texas still won’t have a ton of long-ball pop but has a number of strong contact hitters. The best hitter at the park is Rhys Hoskins, Sacramento State’s 6-4 first baseman/outfielder who has five hits in two games, including a double he crushed over Hall’s head in center in a three-run inning that spelled doom for Texas. But don’t think of it as disaster.
As Thornhill said, “I’m going to keep pitching. It’s not the end of the world.”
Nor the end of the series, a season-opening series. And Texas sophomore Dillon Peters will try to make sure that ends properly today.