Baseball: Horns inch into first in Big 12

Texas continued its climb up the Big 12 standings with a weekend sweep of Kansas State in Manhattan. Matter of fact, the Horns three wins coupled with Okie State's two losses in three games vs. Nebraska pushed UT to the top spot in the conference standings two-thirds of the way through the 27-game league schedule. Texas improved to 12-6 in the Big 12 and 34-10 overall.

Baylor's two wins in three tries vs. A&M allowed the Bears to bounce into second place at 12-8, a game behind the league-leading Horns. The Huskers (12-9), who will visit the Disch the first weekend in May, and the Cowboys (8-6), UT's upcoming weekend opponent at the Disch, are tied for third after their weekend series in Stillwater. Following their two losses to Baylor, the Aggies (10-8) dropped to fifth in the league after being tied for second with Texas heading into the weekend's action.

The Horns pulled off the sweep of the dangerous Wildcats with strong starting pitching, great relief work and timely hitting. In Friday's series opener, starter Brad Halsey picked up his fifth win of the season vs. just one loss by tossing seven innings of scoreless ball. Texas, although out-hit 8-7 overall by KSU, scored five runs in the game's final three innings and Huston Street shut down K-State in the last two frames as UT notched a 6-0 win. The big shot of the game came in the seventh when Ryan Hubele connected for a two-run blast that gave the Horns a bit of breathing room at 5-0.

Home run king Jeff Ontiveros added his own big shot in the first game of a Sunday doubleheader, padding his career record total with a solo blast, his 11th dinger of the season and 46th in his UT career, to give Texas the early lead. The Wildcats, though, battled back, scoring a single run in the third and two in the fourth to take a 3-1 lead on UT ace Justin Simmons. The Longhorn bats, though, had to rescue Simmons from his uncharacteristically shaky mound performance. In the fifth, both Kalani Napoleon and Eric Sultemeier smacked two-run homers, putting the Horns back on top for good, allowing Simmons to notch his 11 win of the season. Jesen Merle pitched 3-1/3 innings of scoreless long relief, helped by the shutdown work of Street in the ninth. Street came on with the bases loaded and one out and struck out the two batters he faced to pick up his third save of the season in the 8-4 UT win.

Kansas State tried to salvage Sunday's series finale, opening an early 1-zip lead, but Texas scored five in the fifth to blow open the close game. Starter Alan Bomer held the 'Cats in check most of the game, giving up two runs on six hits before Street again came in and shut the door on a final-inning K-State rally in the 8-2 Longhorn W.

Street's reemergence as the Horns' consistent closer may be the best news to come out of the series in Manhattan. During its midseason slump, the Texas relief corps had trouble closing out games, but the true freshman from Westlake has reversed that trend of late.

With their 34th win, the Horns have already equaled their regular season win totals in both '99 and '01 and are within striking distance of the 39 regular season wins the Omaha-bound '00 squad managed. Thirteen games remain on the Texas schedule, beginning Tuesday with Ty Harrington-coached Southwest Texas State at the Disch, and the Horns obviously have an excellent shot to reach the elusive (under Augie Garrido) 40-win plateau (and perhaps greatly exceed it) and snag a subregional hosting spot that would likely follow.


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