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No. 6 Texas blasts No. 3 TCU, 9-3, to take series

The No. 6 Texas Longhorns (38-12, 15-6) kept the team’s Big 12 regular-season title hopes alive on Sunday in Fort Worth with a 9-3 victory over the No. 3 TCU Horned Frogs (34-12, 16-5) to take the pivotal series.

Texas is now one game behind TCU with three conference games remaining and holds the tiebreaker over the Horned Frogs if both teams finish with the same record in Big 12 play. The series win also cements a resume that should afford the Longhorns a top-eight national seed and home-field advantage through the Super Regionals barring any missteps over the final five regular-season games.

After a frustrating 2-1 loss on Saturday during which Texas failed to record an RBI in 11 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, Sunday’s win showcased the team’s formula for making a deep postseason run — strong pitching, enough power to change games, and the ability manufacture runs when necessary.

Sunday’s early solution for struggling with runners in scoring position and giving away too many outs on sacrifice bunts? Just hit the ball out of the ballpark.

This Texas team has won games both ways this season and on Sunday it skewed heavily towards the home run in the first three innings.

First baseman Zach Zubia hit his eighth home run of the season in the first inning, smashing a hanging breaking ball over the left-field fence.

In the second inning, third baseman Cam Williams took advantage of the windy conditions, lofting a ball that carried over the left-field fence, a two-run shot that marked his first home run in more than a month.

Zubia continued his impressive performance in the third with his second home run of the game, this time to the opposite field. He’s now reached base in 26 straight games, a streak that started during the Sunday loss to Oklahoma in late March, with 31 hits and 27 walks over that stretch.

Small ball reappeared in the fifth as center fielder Mike Antico singled through the right side and advanced to second when second baseman Mitchell Daly put down a sacrifice bunt. Unlike Saturday’s game, the approach paid off for head coach David Pierce when designated hitter Ivan Melendez singled to center field with two outs to score Antico.

Forcing the TCU defense to make plays paid off in the sixth inning, too. Right fielder Douglas Hodo III singled up the middle to lead off the frame and shortstop Trey Faltine put down an effective bunt that caused a throwing error by the Horned Frogs pitcher, allowing Hodo to advance to third and Faltine to take second. Williams came through again, knocking an 0-2 pitch into right field for a line-drive single that scored Hodo.

Left-hander River Ridings has been sensational for TCU this season out of the bullpen, but couldn’t find his release point on Sunday, walking Antico and Daly to push the Texas lead to 7-0. With the bases loaded, Zubia jumped on the second pitch that he saw, finding the hole between the shortstop and third baseman to score two more runs and drive Ridings from the game after his worst performance of the season.

Two strikeouts finally ended the inning, but the damage was done, as the Longhorns sent 10 batters to the plate in scoring four runs on three hits.

Left-hander Pete Hansen was efficient on the mound in his first weekend start. Against a team hitting .300 with 51 home runs on the season, Hansen once again located his fastball effectively and used his off-speed pitches to keep TCU hitters off balance, frequently inducing weak contact.

Hansen allowed a hit in the first inning and didn’t allow another until the sixth, both of them by Brayden Taylor, quickly erasing the second hit with an inning-ending double play. After throwing 95 pitches, a career high, Hansen left the game after seven innings having allowed two hits and no runs with four strikeouts and three walks.

In relief, left-hander Lucas Gordon received a quick hook after allowing the only two batters he faced in the eighth inning to reach base, but right-hander Cole Quintanilla was able to retired the side on three straight flyouts.

In the ninth, right-hander Drew Shifflet wasn’t able to record an out and allowed a three-run home run before closer Aaron Nixon came on and struck out the first two batters he faced. Nixon’s fastball was lively and in the mid 90s to set up his devastating hard slider.

It wasn’t a perfect performance from the bullpen with Gordon and Shifflet both taking steps back after heartening appearances in recent weeks.

Overall, however, the Longhorns dominated one of the nation’s best teams on Sunday to answer those lingering questions about how well this team can perform against the best competition and positioned itself to maximize its postseason potential.

Texas returns to UFCU Disch-Falk Field for midweek games against Texas Southern and Rice before closing out conference play at home against West Virginia next weekend. Tuesday’s first pitch as at 6:30 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network.

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