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Stevens Leads Texas to Comprehensive Win Over LSU

HOUSTON — The atmosphere inside Minute Maid Park for Saturday night’s showcase game between No. 1 Texas and No. 8 Louisiana State lived up to the pregame hype.

Thousands of fans of both teams showed up more than an hour early, while the previous game between Tennessee and Baylor still had several innings left to play, and in the case of one particularly boisterous suite full of LSU fans, showed up more or less at the very start of the first game of the day between UCLA and Oklahoma at roughly 11:00 AM. And the announced crowd of 24,787 was present and loud from the first pitch all the way through to the end.

“Honestly, it did remind me of Omaha,” said Texas starting pitcher Tristan Stevens. “It reminded me of last year pitching against Mississippi State. The crowd, it was awesome.”

On paper, a 6-1 win for Texas makes it look like the Longhorns were in control largely from start to finish, and that’s a reasonable interpretation from the outside looking in.

Texas jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the second inning thanks to a throwing error by LSU pitcher Ty Floyd that scored Silas Ardoin and a three-run homer for Douglas Hodo III. From there, Stevens made that lead hold up most of the rest of the way and insurance runs late gave the bullpen the breathing room it needed. That all seems pretty straightforward.

But that interpretation fails to fully take into account the atmosphere and the tension brought into every single big moment that arrived.

Stevens was nothing short of outstanding on Saturday, let’s be clear about that up front. He threw seven innings, giving up five hits and no walks with seven strikeouts on exactly 100 pitches.

“Stevens was outstanding, just pitching,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “That’s what he does best, he just pitches. He doesn’t fear the hitter, he trusts his stuff in the zone, just a super job there.”

He had to work for it, though. LSU’s offense is always in games because of its quick-strike ability and the LSU portion of the crowd made its presence felt every time it had the chance, making what was never really that close of a game feel like a tie game in the late innings for the entirety of the three-plus hours the teams were on the field.

LSU also applied pressure by putting progressively better swings on the ball, and there were several balls off the bat that looked ticketed for the seats, or at least for extra bases, only to have them hit directly at defenders or have them run down by Texas’ fleet of speedy outfielders.

There was the hard lineout to right field in the second inning for Brayden Jobert that Texas right fielder Dylan Campbell couldn’t have had to move more than six inches to corral. There was the line drive off the bat of Alex Milazzo in the third that left fielder Eric Kennedy laid out to snag. In the fifth, Giovanni Digiacomo got into a ball to center field, but Hodo ran it down to the deepest part of the park. In the sixth, Tre’ Morgan hit a ball that put Campbell’s back right up to the right field wall and whipped the LSU faithful into an anticipatory frenzy, but it was ultimately caught there, mere feet from a momentum-shifting home run.

Some of those hard-hit balls were part of rallies that LSU put together, but Stevens always seemed to find the big pitch in those instances.

In the third inning, he broke off three straight filthy sliders to strike out Dylan Crews and get out of a jam with two men on base. With two men on again in the sixth, he got Jacob Berry to fly out deep to left and then ended the threat by striking out Jordan Thompson swinging over the top of another slider. Finally, in the seventh, with two men on once again, he got Morgan, who had put together good at-bat after good at-bat all night, despite having little to show for it, to ground out to second base.

“He’s unfazed by anything, really,” Hodo said of Stevens. “It’s just awesome to see, that’s just who he is.”

Just three weeks into the season, it’s already getting difficult to find new ways to describe how well Texas has played.

It has handily beaten the teams it should handily beat. It has stairstepped its way to beating increasingly difficult opponents, from Alabama last weekend to Tennessee on Friday and LSU on Saturday.

It has pitched well at every turn. Its offense makes the opposition pay for seemingly every little mistake and its defense is just about airtight.

It’s clear that this is a team set on making last year’s College World Series appearance look like a springboard to bigger things in hindsight, and with what we’ve seen so far, the Longhorns appear well on their way.

“It’s great for momentum because you feel like you can play with anybody in the country and we’ve proven that,” Pierce said.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

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