12th inning home run sinks Longhorns’ season opener

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The Longhorns spent all offseason talking about how they wanted to erase the memory of a 2015 campaign marred by wasted potential and missed opportunities.

One smooth swing of the bat in the 12th inning from UNLV catcher Andrew Yazdanbakhsh was the decisive blow in a 4-3 Rebel win that ensured that Texas’ painful trend continued into opening day of the 2016 season.

Texas rode clutch two-strike hitting and imperfect, but opportunistic pitching to a 3-1 lead through seven innings. But a two-out misplay in the top of the eighth by otherwise stellar sophomore right fielder Patrick Mathis led to a game-tying, two-run triple that led the game into extra innings.

“That’s baseball, man,” veteran head coach Auggie Garrido said. “It’s really a test of how we are going to deal with the uncontrollable of baseball.”

Right-hander Kyle Johnston got the start for the Longhorns and delivered four innings of one-run ball, but the sophomore surrendered five walks and three hits and never really seemed in control of the game.

Texas’ new offensive approach based on playing aggressively and making contact also didn’t quite pan out as the team had hoped. The Longhorns struck out eleven times, and the early count swinging led to many quick outs for the UNLV pitching staff.

However, Garrido has no plans to change his team’s approach.

“They won’t have any identity very quickly if you don’t stick to what they’ve been practicing and what they’ve been told,” Garrido said. “They know they can score runs when the balls are falling in, and that’s just the risk you take.”

The game was not all disappointment and missed opportunities though. Sophomore designated hitter Michael Cantu blasted a ground-rule double over the right field wall in the bottom of the second and then came around to score after second baseman Jake McKenzie punched a two-strike, two-out grounder just past the dive of UNLV shortstop Nick Rodriguez.

Nine hitter Tyler Rand added another two-out RBI in the second, and Cantu contributed a two-strike RBI single in the third to put the Longhorns up 3-1 in the early going, but that was all the offense Texas would get for the rest of the game.

Two very strong innings of relief by junior Josh Sawyer kept Texas competitive, but Mathis’ misplay in the eighth erased it all.

The Longhorns gained some momentum in the top of the tenth when freshman righty Chase Shugart overcame a two-on no-out situation. The newcomer tossed a beautiful curveball past UNLV third baseman Cooper Esmay and forced a ground out to end the Rebel threat, but Texas failed to counter in the rest of extra innings.

The Longhorns will hand the ball to senior lefty Ty Culbreth tomorrow at 2 p.m. in search of a rebound win in the second of three games against the Rebels.