No. 1 Texas Opens Season With Impressive Performance
AUSTIN – On Opening Day, after being tabbed as the Preseason No. 1 team and taking all the buzz that comes with that ranking in stride, Texas did all it could to show what the hype was all about. The Longhorns defeated Rice, 7-0, and impressed in all facets of the game.
On the mound, where Texas stands out the most, lefthander Pete Hansen and righthanders Travis Sthele and Jared Southard combined on a five-hit shutout. Defensively, the Longhorns played clean baseball, turned a double play and catcher Silas Ardoin threw out a would-be base stealer. Offensively, Texas recorded four extra-base hits, worked four walks and made Rice pay for its defensive miscues.
It was a complete performance for the Longhorns that sent the 7,355 fans at Disch-Falk Field home happy. Coach David Pierce was also happy with the way his team played.
“I thought we did a great job of fighting emotions and adrenaline of Opening Day,” he said. “We played really clean baseball. Early in the year, what you look for is guys trying to do more or guys trying to do different and really what I saw was a lot of the same of what we saw in the past, in the fall and the early spring, how we approach the game.”
Texas will face stiffer competition going forward than Rice, which last season went 23-29-1 and this year is under the direction of first-year coach Jose Cruz Jr. And while the Owls struggled – committing two errors, throwing three wild pitches and a passed ball – the Longhorns did what good teams do: take advantage of the mistakes and put the game away.
Having put in the hard work in the offseason to prepare for big moments this season, the Longhorns were ready for Opening Day.
“Everyone was hyped up for the first game of the season, I was also,” Ardoin said. “I just had to take a step back and trust my work.”
Ardoin’s work led to a breakout game Friday night. He went 3-for-4 with a double, home run and threw out a runner trying to steal second. His home run was just the second of his career and his three hits matched his career high.
Reports out of Austin in the fall and winter suggested that Ardoin was on the verge of a breakout season. Now, as he begins his third year of college baseball, the Longhorns catcher is starting to make good on that promise.
Ardoin has always stood out for his ability behind the plate. But he’s not been an offensive force to this point for the Longhorns and last season hit .239/.389/.315, showing off good on-base skills but not as much impact at the plate.
He said he’s more comfortable at the plate now that he has a couple seasons of college baseball under his belt. That confidence allows him to be more aggressive, which could lead to him driving the ball more often.
If Ardoin is going to hit with more authority in 2022, it only serves to lengthen the Texas lineup, which got a run or a hit from eight starters Friday. At the heart of it all, was Ardoin.
“He’s a stud, he’s the man,” Hansen said. “He’s a catcher that’s going to work for you and that’s what he did. He swung it and that’s an understatement today. It’s good to see that guy having success. He works really hard.”
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Hansen was also excellent for Texas. In six innings, he struck out eight batters, walked one and held the Owls to three hits. He twice snuffed out would-be rallies when Rice got a runner in scoring position with less than two outs, holding the Owls to 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
Hansen’s stuff was solid, and he spotted his fastball well to both sides of the plate. He mixed in both his slider and curveball and continually kept batters off balance.
One of the few holes Texas has to fill from its 2021 team is at the front of the rotation after righthander Ty Madden was drafted No. 32 overall. Against Rice, however, Hansen showed he is ready to take the mantle as the Longhorns’ No. 1 starter.
“Pete did his thing,” Ardoin said. “He gets on the mound, and he competes, that’s his best feature. You’re going to get his best every Friday night.”
The Longhorns as a whole brought their best to Disch-Falk Field on Friday night, getting their 2022 season started in style. It was just the first game on a long road to Omaha and they will have to continue to play at a high level for the next four months.
But Friday night was a strong start. After a long offseason, Texas wasted no time showing what the fuss was all about.
“It’s definitely been a long time coming but I know these guys are really excited to get back out here,” Hansen said. “We’re going to earn that ranking in everything we do. As long as we keep winning games and doing the things we need to do, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”