In a game deadlocked 6-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning, freshman Zach Zubia drove a fastball to center field. Without even looking to see the ball go over the fence, the designated hitter dropped his bat to the ground, pointed celebratorily to the fans in the right-field bleachers and trotted over to first base.
There was no need to look.
Zubia left no doubt that the monstrous home run had just given the Longhorns the advantage — the last lead change in a roller coaster 8-6 Texas victory over New Orleans on Friday night at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
“They came with the off-speed and then with the fastball,” Zubia said. “They hung a split-finger fastball up, and I was able to get under it and hit it out. I got the barrel on the ball and that’s it.”
Entering Friday, there was no reason to think this would be much of a game.
The Longhorns have dominated non-Power 5 opponents this year. Before Friday, Texas was 10–1 against such competition, outscoring teams 64 to 21.
But the Southland’s Privateers proved to be a worthy opponent from the jump. In the first inning, New Orleans pounced on junior pitcher Nolan Kingham. The Privateers scored three runs in the inning, a rally highlighted by two-run bomb to left field.
“Whether it’s a non-conference or a conference game, people come into The Disch and bring their A-game,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “I thought (New Orleans) swung the bats well early, and we weren’t very sharp early with Nolan (Kingham).”
With Texas failing to get anything going at the plate, the team found itself trailing 4-0 heading to the bottom of the fifth. But that’s when the fun started.
The Longhorns came alive on offense, scoring four runs in the half inning to tie things up. Junior infielder Kody Clemens got things started, knocking out a two-run homer after junior infielder Masen Hibbeler hit a single.
Texas then reached base in five different ways — in five consecutive at-bats — to knot the game up at 4-4.
Zubia was hit by a pitch, then sophomore infielder David Hamilton walked to put runners on first and second. After an error loaded the bases, junior catcher DJ Petrinsky singled to cut the deficit to 4-3. A fielder’s choice RBI on the next at-bat completed the comeback.
But even after Texas took the lead in the next inning, New Orleans punched back, scoring two runs in the seventh to take a 6-5 lead heading into the eighth inning. That’s when Zubia and the Longhorns put the game away for good.
“Unbelievable resiliency and unbelievable fight from the team and not panicking,” Pierce said. “I think what’s happening is that we’re maturing and that we’re confident that we’re going to win. It’s here we go, hit here and hit there, and we’re going to win the game.”
Kingham struggled in the game, allowing six earned runs on nine hits.
Junior Josh Sawyer was awarded the win, his first since 2015, pitching a perfect eighth inning. After the game, Sawyer was surprised not only that he was awarded the win but how long it had been since his last one.
“I actually had no idea that I got the win,” Sawyer said. “I was in the locker room and Jake (McKenzie) came up, and he asked, ‘When was your last win?’’’ It wasn’t last year and it wasn’t the year before...I think I won a couple of games my sophomore year.”
Game two of the three-game series is slated for Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Disch-Falk Field.