Tres Barrera, Texas

Texas catcher Tres Barrera points to the crowd after a two-run single. (Shotgun Spatling)

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Spratling: Texas Finds A Way At UCLA

Analysis

LOS ANGELES — “We had been there before and this time we found a way to win.”

Texas junior catcher Tres Barrera was being positive after the Longhorns turned an easy 7-2 victory into a nail-biting, blood pressure-raising 7-5 victory that ended with UCLA’s best hitter, Eric Filia, at the plate representing the winning run.

Filia flew out to left field to give Texas the victory to open the series, but the ninth inning wasn’t without drama. Freshman Chase Shugart walked two batters and hit another to load the bases without recording an out. Fellow freshman Nolan Kingham, who has put up the best numbers of any Texas reliever, came in to put the fire out, but he walked in a run and allowed two deep sacrifice flies before finally locking down the victory.

It was a similar situation to the 7-0 advantage the Longhorns held with four outs remaining in the series finale against Cal. They turned that into a 10-7 extra-inning loss, partially due to their inability to throw strikes consistently.

“We had a devastating loss. That was certainly in their minds tonight,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. “It’s something to work with. It’s something to talk about. It’s something to get out of our system.”

Garrido attributed the late-inning concerns to a trio of causes:

“I think the environmental change, the pressure of the games, the lack of experience by the guys that are in late in the game to save the game.”

Texas took a 7-2 lead into the ninth inning thanks to a couple of big swings earlier in the game. Tied 2-2, the Longhorns took the lead in the fourth inning on a Zane Gurwitz double. They added a run on Travis Jones’ sacrifice fly. Bret Boswell opened things up three pitches later when he waited back on a changeup and obliterated it, sending it clanking off the top of the UCLA hitting facility behind the right field wall for a two-run homer.

Earlier in the game, UCLA outfielder Kort Peterson also hit a solo homer off the front of the hitting facility.

The Breakdown

Star Spotlight

Texas’ pitchers struggled with command, but Barrera was positive good things were on the near horizon.

“It’s growing pains, man,” Barrera said. “We’ve got a young staff — talented, but very young.”

Barrera said he told the young pitchers after the game to focus on the positives and carry them forward while recognizing what mistakes they made and how they can be corrected.

Luckily for Texas starter Kyle Johnston and the rest of the young staff, Barrera provides great leadership behind the dish and a great bat when he stands in the box. He finished with three hits and two RBIs.

He erased an early 1-0 deficit with a two-out, two-run single to center field in the third inning and added a pair of singles in the later innings.

Barrera is the most important player on the Longhorns’ roster because of his two-fold duties as clean-up hitter in the lineup and veteran guidance counselor behind the plate, pushing the pitchers in the right direction.

“I think it helps a tremendous amount,” Garrido said of Barrera’s experience behind the plate.

Game Changer

Travis Duke isn’t going to blow you away. Not with his fastball. Not with his repertoire. Not with athleticism. But he is likely going to get you out. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound soft-tossing lefty looks like he is rocking back and firing a 100 mph fastball, but it sits in the low 80s instead. But what he lacks in velocity, Duke more than makes up with his willingness to battle.

“He doesn’t have the greatest stuff. He isn’t the greatest athlete, but he’s got the biggest heart and he’s the best competitor,” Garrido said. “I think (pitching coach Skip Johnson)’s brought all those pluses out in him and he has experience and that goes a long way.”

Duke is an extremely valuable member of the Longhorns bullpen due to his versatility. He can be used to get one lefthander out or he can go multiple innings like he did Friday night. Duke didn’t light up the radar gun, but he was lights out. He pitched around three hits and an error to put up three scoreless frames. He struck out two and most importantly, on a night when Texas walked 11 batters, none were by Duke.

In Their Words

Texas head coach Augie Garrido talks about the Longhorns’ 7-5 win to open series at UCLA. Garrido also discusses the work of Travis Duke out of the bullpen and Tres Barrera’s impact behind the plate:

UCLA head coach John Savage talks about the Bruins’ 7-5 loss to Texas, including the effort of Griffin Canning to give the team 6.2 innings despite giving up six runs through four innings. Savage also discusses the importance of Trent Chatterton getting going at the bottom of the lineup:

Texas C Tres Barrera talks about the Longhorns’ 7-5 loss to UCLA and says a tense ninth inning was good for the team to show them they could finish things off. Barrera also discusses working with the pitching staff and how the offense was able to get to UCLA starter Griffin Canning:

Top Performances

Texas:

  • Tres Barrera: 3-for-5, 2 RBI
    Zane Gurwitz: 2-for-4, 2 R, 2 2B, RBI
    Travis Duke: 3 IP, 3 H, 2 K

UCLA:

  • Kort Peterson: 2-for-4, 2 R, HR, RBI, BB
    Jon Olsen: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K

Bottom Line

– Texas needed this win to get over the hump after last week’s devastating loss to Cal, but the Longhorns need their pitching staff as a whole to throw more strikes. Outside of Travis Duke’s three scoreless innings (31 strikes in 44 pitches), the Texas pitchers didn’t throw enough strikes. Kyle Johnston, Chase Shugart and Nolan Kingham all threw less than 50 percent strikes. Jon Malmin, who picked up the win with 1.2 scoreless innings, managed 57 percent.

– UCLA has to do a better job at the plate. The Bruins can’t leave 16 runners on base and expect to win, especially at this point in the season when they are struggling with their bullpen arms. Hunter Virant and Justin Hooper can’t throw strikes consistently. Tucker Forbes and Moises Ceja are out with injuries and the rest of the relievers are all inexperienced. Griffin Canning did a great job to give the Bruins 6.2 innings on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff and was hit around early, but the offense has to do its part as well.

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