The Texas Longhorns took two out of three games against the Duke Blue Devils to start off the 2012 campaign this past weekend at Disch-Falk Field. After sweeping a rain induced double header on Saturday with clutch pitching and timely hitting, the normally sound Texas defense fell apart on Sunday, committing two errors and giving up 5 runs.
The first game of the double header featured Nathan Thornhill in his new role as Texas’ Friday starter and heavy hitting Marcus Stroman on the mound for Duke. Thornhill pitched five innings of a seven inning game, scattering three hits (all singles) while throwing only 63 pitches. He struck out two batters, walked one, and came away with the first win of the year for a young Texas rotation. Stroman also pitched five full innings but the Texas offense made him work, taking a look at 92 pitches. Texas managed four hits against the Blue Devils’ ace, including two home runs, earned five walks, were twice hit by pitch, and struck out only three times.
The offensive standout of the first game was clearly Brooks Marlow, the freshman second baseman out of Giddings High School. After striking out in his first at bat, the youngster led off the fourth inning by smashing the fourth pitch he saw into the Texas bullpen for a solo home run. Up until that point, Stroman had only given up one hit and had been able to pitch around the several walks the Longhorns had earned. When Marlow returned to the plate in the fifth inning, Landon Steinhagen was standing on first base after being hit by a Stroman pitch. With one on and one out, Marlow launched a fastball over the 375’ marker in right field.
Texas only managed one more hit in the game, but it proved to be a productive swat. After Christian Summers drew his second walk of the afternoon off Duke relief man Chase Bebout, Mark Payton drilled a triple that rolled to the right center field wall for his first RBI of the year and the fourth and final run of the game. The game was uneventful after sophomore Corey Knebel relieved Thornhill to start the sixth inning. Aside from an error by Christian Summers on a throw to first, and a mysterious balk called against Knebel, the nation’s best closer retired the next four Duke batters in order, including two strikeouts.
The nightcap saw a shaky start from junior southpaw Hoby Milner, but more offense from Marlow and company allowed the Horns to overcome an early two run deficit. Milner was matched against Duke freshman Trent Swart, a left handed pitcher from Carlsbad, CA.
After a 12 pitch first inning, Milner began to struggle with his control, hitting the lead off man with a pitch and then giving up a double, putting runners at second and third with no outs. Milner struck out the next batter he faced, but when Jordan Betts hit a routine ground ball to third base, Erich Weiss threw wide of first. When the dust settled, Duke had scored two runs on the play, one earned, and had Betts on second with only one out. Milner walked the next batter, but then used a come-backer to the mound to get the lead runner, Betts, out at third. He then struck out Matt Berezo to end the inning.
Texas answered those two runs in the bottom of the second. Jonathan Walsh led off with a single up the right side, and was joined on base by Christian Summers who earned a walk. Tim Maitland stepped to the plate and laid a perfect bunt down the third base line to juice the bases for Mark Payton. When Payton laced a double into left field, Walsh and Summers scored easily. Brooks Marlow brought home the final run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Texas went on to score two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, an inning that saw three walks, a wild pitch, and a single by Tim Maitland.
Though Duke scored a run in the fifth, Texas held on to their lead and claimed the victory, thanks in large part to a strong first outing by freshman right-hander Parker French. French came to the mound in relief of Milner in the sixth and saw three innings of work. In the eighth, he ran into some trouble by loading the bases with Blue Devils, but came back strong with a strikeout to end the Duke threat. In the ninth, the ball was handed to Corey Knebel, who quickly procured three ground outs.
Texas and Duke returned to the field on Sunday, led by freshman John Curtiss and sophomore Robert Huber, respectively. Huber dominated the Texas bats, allowing only two hits in his six innings of work.
The brightest performance on an otherwise unremarkable day for Texas was freshman Ricky Jacquez. Jacquez pitched five scoreless innings of relief, scattering four hits and flashing a mighty fastball.
Texas finally mustered a few runs in the eighth off a predicted home run from senior Kevin Lusson, bringing them within a run of Duke, but it was not enough.
Texas had a horrendous top of the ninth of defense, committing two errors and allowing two unearned runs in the process. A ninth inning rally was not in the cards for the Longhorns, as they went 1-2-3 into the showers. Curtiss was saddled with the loss with a final score of 5-2 and Texas took the series with two out of three.
(see Texas vs. Duke pictures here and scorebook pages here)