The Horns broke open a tight game by scoring in each of their final four at-bats but, more importantly, head coach Augie Garrido detected the intensity that had been missing from his squad for much of the season. To be sure, his talented club had shown flashes of brilliance on both sides of the plate throughout the season but had not sustained the level of focus and discipline for nine complete innings until Monday. Garrido conducted impromptu team meetings following Texas' pedestrian win on Saturday followed by another mandatory gathering on Sunday.
"The first game (Saturday) we didn't play very well and we still won the game, 5-3," Garrido said Monday. "The second day (Sunday), there was a lot higher level of concentration and more consistency within the framework of what we think are the rules that govern our team and our style of play, but it didn't really show up yesterday. Today, it did show up. The two teams really separated themselves. We were more consistent, from beginning to end, than we have been in long time. It's extremely encouraging...It almost looked easy. That's the way it's supposed to look when it's well done."
The only negative from Monday's game (and it's a biggie) is that Garrido is looking for another right-fielder. Freshman Kyle Russell, who less than two weeks ago replaced the injured Jordan Danks in the outfield, had to be carried off the field after injuring his ankle in the top of the fourth. Russell crashed into the right field wall while chasing down an Adam Hale triple. Garrido will not directly say this, but the injury had as much to do with the state of disrepair at the Disch as it did with Russell's hustle.
"His foot got caught in a torn spot in right field," Garrido said. "His spike got caught in that and it actually tore off his shoe. It twisted his ankle in the process. His spike got hung up in the padding. His foot was in there and he used his foot to brace against the fence. When he fell down, the shoe stayed there and he didn't."
There was no immediate prognosis for Russell's return, but Hunter Harris will remain in the outfield for the duration.
LHP Riley Boening (5.95 ERA) raised his record to 3-1 after tying his career best with six innings of work. The freshman surrendered just one run on three hits while fanning five and walking two. He still had some gas in his tank, but...
"That's the farthest he's gone, and I didn't want the game to end for him on a sour note," Garrido said. "There's a lot of baseball left."
The Horns stranded a pair of base runners during both of the first two innings, including two in scoring position with one out in the bottom of the second. A&M jumped on top, 1-0, in the top of the third after Blake Stouffer's one-out single made him the first Aggie base runner of the afternoon. John Infante was issued a base-on-balls before John Salazar, his team's leading hitter with a .293 average, plated Stouffer on an RBI-single.
The Aggies threatened to build on their lead when Hale opened the fourth inning with a stand-up triple. That's when a full-throttled Russell crashed hard into the right field wall. The freshman managed to relay the ball into the infield, preventing an inside-the-park home run, before collapsing on the warning track. Play was halted for several minutes before Harris filled-in at RF (He would later taking a beating at the plate when hit by pitches in consecutive at-bats). But that's when Boening bore down. Spencer Jackson grounded out back to the box before the freshman LHP forced an Austin Boggs' groundout to short. That brought the partisan crowd to its feet and C Craig Stinson to the plate. After falling behind in the count, Boening fanned Stinson on two called strikes to get out of the inning unscathed.
Texas tied the score in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of two base hits, a hit batsman and a balk. After Bradley Suttle grounded out to short, Harris was hit by a pitch and then took second on Ueckert's balk. DH Brett Lewis bounced back from an 0-2 count to deliver a base-hit to left, putting Horns on the corners. Nick Peoples knotted the air on an RBI-single up the middle.
"That is an example of a high level of concentration, good performance and attention to detail," Garrido told Inside Texas.
RHP Jordan Chambless relieved Ueckert in the bottom of the sixth. A Carson Kainer walk put the leadoff batter aboard for only the second time of the contest for the Horns. He moved to second on Preston Clark's sacrifice bunt before Chais Fuller took one for the team to put runners on first and second. The switch-hitting Suttle, standing in the left-side of the batter's box, prompted another quick pitching change, bringing LHP Anthony Vasquez to the mound. Now batting right, Suttle was issued a free pass on four straight balls to load the bases.
Okay, here's where you're thinking: can it happen again? Will an Aggie pitcher produce the go-ahead run by hitting another Longhorn batter?
The Horns grabbed their first lead of the day after Harris was hit for the second time in as many at-bats. The Aggies looked to their bullpen for the third time during the inning, calling for RHP Hart Hering. Another run scored on SS Jose Salazar's fielding error, but he quickly atoned with a 6-4-3 double-play off Peoples' grounder to end the inning.
RHP Randy Boone made his third appearance of the series in the top of the seventh after notching Sunday's win in College Station. The junior produced a pair of three-up, three-down innings and has settled into his role as Texas' middle reliever. Admittedly, it's not a glamorous role but "it's a role where you can get wealthy," Garrido said. "He's watched two (Longhorns) do that. But, more so than the money, Randy is a team-leader. He's one of the guys on the team who is willing to do whatever it takes. He recognizes that we need that (middle relief) so he asked to do that."
The Horns weren't done offensively.
Chance Wheeless led off the top of the seventh with a single to center field. Stubbs then beat out a perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line, extending his hitting streak to 13 games. Carson Kainer squared to bunt but then, after drawing in the infield, lashed a liner into left field. Clark's sacrifice-RBI into left field made it a 4-1 ballgame before Stubbs stole third to put runners on the corners. Chais Fuller's sacrifice bunt down the first base line brought home the fifth Texas run of the afternoon.
Harris slapped a lead-off double into center field during the Horns final at-bat and reached third on the fielders' choice. Peoples' hit a sacrifice fly into deep center field to cap the scoring at 6-1. LHP Austin Wood surrendered consecutive base hits 4-6-3 double-play to record a team-best eighth save.
The Horns will be back at the Disch, 6:15 p.m., Tuesday for a non-conference match against Texas State.