Hansen’s Outing a Reminder of Texas’ Ceiling

Image credit: Pete Hansen (Photo by Eddie Kelly)

ARLINGTON, Texas — Texas lefthander Pete Hansen put together a throwback outing in a 4-0 win Wednesday against Oklahoma State to begin the Big 12 Tournament. 

It’s not just a throwback to a different time in pitching, although it’s also that. In the very velocity-focused environment that is pitching in 2022, Hansen gets it done with good, old-fashioned location and deception. 

That ability has been well-documented and it was very much on display against the Cowboys as he allowed three hits and two walks with 12 strikeouts in 7.2 innings. 

“Pete was outstanding today,” said Texas coach David Pierce. “(I) just thought he did a nice job of establishing both sides of the plate and really was able to use the fastball in when he did that, and the slider was outstanding.”

Hansen threw 122 pitches, although very few of them were pitches under duress. He didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning and never had to deal with two runners on base at the same time, and as a result, he still looked and felt strong into the eighth inning. 

“I felt like I was just warming up, honestly,” Hansen said. “I was pretty bummed when I saw (Pierce) coming out there.”

More specific to this season, Hansen’s outing was a throwback to headier times for the Longhorns. 

Pierce alluded to as much after the game. 

“We left a couple of runs out there, but our pitching was so good today that we were able to make up for it,” he said. “I haven’t said that too many times this year.”

It’s been a while, but at one point this season, Texas was cruising. Led by Hansen, who allowed just one run across his first three starts of the season, including limiting Tennessee to one run in six innings in the third of those three, the Longhorns began the season 11-0 and looked the part of the No. 1 team in the country. 

Suffice it to say that things haven’t gone as planned since then. Injuries piled up, most notably to righthander Tanner Witt, other key players struggled, confounding series losses to South Carolina and Kansas State cropped up, and even as late as the first weekend in May, Texas got swept at home by Oklahoma State. 

As an aside, it was in that Oklahoma State series that Hansen actually had one of his toughest starts of the season. He gave up six runs on nine hits in seven innings. 

“We got him last time pretty good,” said Oklahoma State left fielder Jake Thompson. “This time, it seemed like, I don’t know, he was putting pitches in spots that were tough to put the ball (in play). He was throwing things up in the zone and we were popping it up a little too much instead of getting flat on him.”

After that 11-0 start, Texas went 20-16 over its next 36 games. It wasn’t a collapse by any stretch, but it was at the very least a reconfiguring of expectations for what this Texas team could be.

It wasn’t the no-doubt No. 1 team in the country, and maybe it wasn’t even among the elite in the country. Questions still remain, but Wednesday proved that when Hansen is on the mound and throwing the ball well, Texas is still that team. 

Of course, Hansen being this kind of good can only help so much in a tournament setting like this. The Longhorns are still going to have to win at least three more games to lift a trophy at the end of the week. 

But it does make Texas extremely dangerous in the postseason. When staying in the winner’s bracket is the key to success in regionals, having Hansen is an asset. 

In super regionals, a good Hansen performance gets the Longhorns halfway to the College World Series. And in Omaha, if Texas can cobble together a deep run, it could use Hansen up to three times in the series. 

It’s not that simple, and Texas has proven this season that it’s a team game and that Hansen is just one player, but college baseball history suggests that having an ace like that is as important as anything else in building a team poised for a deep postseason run. 

One other thing that could be extremely helpful in Texas’ quest to make good on its preseason expectations is playing baseball at home during regionals, and Wednesday’s win pushed it in the right direction.

The victory moved the Longhorns up to 16 in RPI immediately after the game and they now have 15 Big 12 wins this season. That’s a borderline host resume as it stands now, so Texas can’t afford to lose its next two games and go home early, but it has set the team up to be in the conversation if it can make it to the end of the week in Arlington. 

While fighting to get back into the hosting picture is not where Texas expected to be at this point, after spending nearly two months in the relative wilderness struggling to find its footing, it’s not a bad place to be.

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