Texas Takes Opening Round From Nebraska, 6-2

One down, two to go: No. 5 Texas jumped on No. 3 Nebraska early, posting a 6-2 win Friday in a critical three-game series at Disch-Falk Field that will likely determine the Big 12 regular season baseball champion. Four stolen bases factored in four Texas runs, but the Horns got an unexpected offensive boost from Clay Van Hook whose second start at third base this season was meant to shore up an inconsistent Texas defense.

The Horns were guilty of 58 errors (in 40 games) heading into Friday night's showdown. Nick Peoples was responsible for 13 of those miscues while transitioning from the outfield to 3B. But that was before RF Jordan Danks ankle injury last Saturday and before Van Hook showed remarkable compentence at both the plate and at the hot corner.

"We put (Van Hook) in for defensive reasons, so he was the offensive star," head coach Augie Garrido told Inside Texas. "He walked the first two times up, scored twice and got two hits. (Note: he also had two stilen bags). That's always the way it works. Baseball is a game that's amazing, but the reason that happened for him -- and other people like him -- is because when he's in the dugout, he's in the game. He's always on the edge of the dugout, he's always the first guy out to congratulate teammates for what they've done, he's always talking the game, he's always in the game. So, when he finally got in the game, he was prepared."

Winning RHP Kyle McCulloch (3.03 ERA) raised his mark to 6-4 on the season. The junior scattered seven seven hits in seven innings against a Nebraska club that entered the game batting .326, He gave up one run and fanned three on 117 pitches. More important, Texas upped its record to 28-13 and, at 11-2 in conference play, extended its lead over Nebraska to 1.5 games. The Huskers now stand at 30-5, 10-3 in Big 12 play.

"They have a lot of great hitters but I just tried to put the ball over the plate and let our defense take care of the rest," McCulloch said. "It happened to go my way today."

Danks is expected to be out with a fractured right ankle for at least six weeks, so Peoples shifted back to RF where he logged 52 starts last season. Van Hook notched his first start at 3B since the season-opening series at San Diego. He logged 19 starts in 2005 when David Maroul was injured but was limited earlier this season when he tore ligaments in his right arm.

"You've got to play offense and defense in this sport so I was mentally prepared to do both," Van Hook told Inside Texas. "I've been taking a lot of ground balls (in practice) lately and hitting a lot more so I could go out there and be mentally focused on both sides of the ball."

The Nebraska series has become the Big 12's marquee matchup as of late. The league's two winningest baseball program's since 1999 are also one of just six teams to have reached the College World Series in three of the past five seasons. Friday night's affair at the Disch marked the season's first matchup of the defending CWS champ against the 2005 Big 12 regular season co-champs and Tournament victors. No. 5 Texas No. 3 Nebraska.

Peoples got things started with a leadoff single into left field before Drew Stubbs was issued a base on balls. Carson Kainer's sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position. The Horns took the early lead on Chance Wheeles sacrifice fly, driving a high fastball on a 3- 0 pitch into left.

Texas took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third. That's when Van Hook drew a lead-off walk, moved to second on Peoples' groundout and then stole third. Stubbs stole second after drawing a walk to put two runners in scoring position. That brought Kainer, Texas' leading hitter at .377 (.404 in Big 12 play) to the plate. The junior laced a 1-0 fastball down the left field line for a two-RBI standup double, giving McCulloch a 3-0 cushion.

DH Nick Sullivan drew a one-out walk on four pitches in the Nebraska fifth. 3B Jake Moore flew out to center field before Sullivan was thrown out trying to steal second to end the frame. Van Hook worked his second lead-off walk of the game and advanced on Peoples' sacrifice bunt. After Stubbs took a called third strike, Kainer fisted a 1-2 pitch over the head of SS Ryan Wehrle for his third RBI of the evening, pusing the Longhorn lead to 4-0.

The Huskers threatened in the top of the sixth when McCulloch surrendered consecutive one-out singles . That brought cleanup hitter Brandon Buckman to the plate, but McCulloch's changeup forced a pop-up to C Preston Clark for the second out. McCulloch wasn't out of the woods, not with NU leading hitter Luke Gorsett (.388) at the plate with two runners on. The lefty was fanned on a check-swing and the Horns were out of the frame.

DH Kyle Russell laced a one-out single into center field before stealing second. Clark became Chamberlain's seventh strikeout victim of the evening, but SS Chaise Fuller sent a 1-0 pitch into right field. The insurance run gave Texas a 5-0 margin.

"We had some two-out hits and some timely hitting," Garrido said. "It always looks easy when it goes like this."

It was deja vu all over again in the Nebraska seventh when McColloch issued consecutive one-out singles. Jake Mort's RBI double down the left field line put Nebraska on the board. 5-1, with two runners in scoring position. That brought pitching coach Tom Holliday to the mound and the top of the NU order coming to the plate. McColloch worked out of a 2-0 count when his fastball caught the inside corner to retire CF Bryce Nimmo. The Horns quelled the uprising when C Jeff Christy flew out to left field.

LHP Jared Cranston relieved Chamberlain in the home half of the frame. Stubbs' singled into left field before Kainer hit into a 2-6 fielders' choice. Kainer stole second and then reached third on C Jeff Christy's throwing error, Nebraska's first miscue of the contest. 2B Bradley Suttle drew a walk on four pitches to put runners on the corners. PH Brett Lewis laced a 0-1 pitch into left as the Horns got the run back to make it a 6-1 ballgame.

RHP Randy Boone made his ninth appearance on the season in the top of the eighth and forced a one-two-three inning (thanks, in part, to Van Hook's diving grab at third). Cranston was done after one as RHP Mike Harmerlink became NU's third pitcher. Van Hook doubled, took third on a wild pitch but was left stranded after a pair of Texas ground-outs.

Austin Wood had stated his case as Texas' closer this month, taking the mound in the top of the ninth, but could not get the final out. LF Nick Jaros lined a one-out double into right field for Nebraska's second extra-base hit of the night. DH Nick Sullivan flew out to left but 3B Jake Mort lined a 3-2 pitch up the middle to put runners on the corners. PH Andrew Brown drew a walk to load the bases for Jeffy Christy, who slapped an RBI-single into right field. Holliday sent RHP Adrian Alaniz to the mound when Nebraska brought the tying run to the plate. Staring at a 2-1 count, SS Ryan Wehrle's infield pop-up landed in Van Hook's glove, an appropos conclusion given his solid performance at third base.

The second contest of the three-game series is set for 2 p.m., Saturday. Alaniz, who threw four pitches, pikced up his third save of the season and was slated to be on the mound for Texas in the second game.

"We'll check with him (Saturday) morning to see how he feels," Garrido said. "If he feels good, then we'll start him tomorrow. If he doesn't, then we'll move him back a day."


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