No. 19 Texas heads into Saturday’s fourth and final game of a series with BYU (3 p.m., Longhorn Network) looking for a sweep, but head coach David Pierce’s squad has already made one heck of a statement in winning their first series of the season. The Longhorns have outscored the Cougars 26-8 through the first three games between the two clubs at UFCU Disch-Falk Field, all wins for Texas (3-3) and Friday’s 11-1 win over BYU (2-5) featured Ty Madden’s seven-inning, one-hit, 11-strikeout gem pace a pitching staff that’s had plenty of run support with the Longhorn bats pounding out 26 hits in three games.
One can’t project too far out what Texas burying the Cougars, who’ve been in the state for more than a week after playing four games spread over four days with Texas State before making the journey up IH-35 from San Marcos, means as far as the big picture is concerned. The same can be said for the ill-advised move of drawing wholesale conclusions from the first three games of the season for the Longhorns, losses as Globe Life Field on consecutive days to No. 5 Mississippi State, No. 2 Arkansas and No. 1 Ole Miss.
With the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the 2020 season not long after it started (the Longhorns played only 17 games, posting a 14-3 record before they were forced to pack it in), which led to an extended offseason and fall and winter sessions where everyone in the country was trying to navigate protocols, the early stages of the 2021 campaign could be (for lack of a better term) wonky for everybody in Division I. Friday, for example, when Texas took care of business, seven members of the D1Baseball.com Top 25 didn’t with the Rebels, Bulldogs, No. 3 Vanderbilt, No. 4 Louisville and No. 6 Miami suffering losses to unranked opponents.
Rather than wash his hands of what happened in Arlington, Pierce said after Friday’s win that his team’s improved play is proof that they’re better for what Mississippi State, Arkansas and Ole Miss did to them. Cy Nielson, BYU’s left-handed starting pitcher for Friday’s game, was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Utah in 2019 and a 40th-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians with formidable stuff, but the Longhorns tattooed him to the tune of seven earned runs and six hits over four innings in which Nielson walked six and struck out two.
Certainly, Texas is going to see better pitching on Friday nights down the road, but it wasn’t just what the offense did to Nielson where the Longhorns showed improvement. Madden lasted only four innings in a season-opening loss to the Bulldogs at the home of the Texas Rangers, giving up four hits and four runs (three earned) with three walks and five strikeouts.
‘If we would have played an average team or a good team at home and went 3-0, we wouldn’t be as good as we are right now and we still have a lot of room to get better,” Pierce said. “For us to challenge ourselves and realize that we’re not as good as we think we are but realize how much better we can get is going to help us. Did it sting? Yes, but I don’t think we’re going to really grow unless we have some setbacks. If it came easy for us, that would be unfortunate, but we were prepared to face this left-hander because of last week. I think that’s a step in the right direction for us.”