Texas played what head coach Augie Garrido called its most consistent game of the season Friday night in a 5-1 win over UC Santa Barbara.
Mark Payton's two-run triple was a perfect example of Texas' new offensive style.
The Longhorns got a typical great outing from starter Parker French and an atypical performance from the plate with production from top to bottom on a chilly night in front of 5,394 at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
"The best game we've played this year," Garrido said. "And that's what really matters after what we've been through to come back and learn from the negatives in the four-game losing streak is exactly the way we have to handle it."
French, who hasn't disappointed through four starts as Texas' ace this season, had another superb outing on the mound Friday night. The sophomore went seven-plus innings for the third time in four outings, and held UC Santa Barbara (8-5) to just five hits and one run over his season-long eight innings, bringing his ERA down to 1.59.
French had only three strikeouts on the night, but he allowed only one extra-base hit and had a single fly-ball out. In all he tallied 19 ground-ball outs in 24 opportunities.
The sixth inning was the only one in which French struggled. He allowed two hits, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch that scored UCSB's only run of the night. But he was able to induce a ground out to third to end the inning and then pitched two more scoreless innings before Corey Knebel came in to close up shop in the ninth and give Texas (8-5) the win.
"A lesser mentality on the mound and that would have fried the guy," Garrido said.
UC Santa Barbara starter Austin Pettibone came into the game with a 0.84 ERA but the Longhorns got hits from all nine starters to give the sophomore his first loss of the season.
"One through nine we played solid and put pressure on [Pettibone]," right fielder Mark Payton said after going 2-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored.
Garrido has recently tweaked his offensive philosophy, shying away from bunting runners into scoring position early in the game and letting his hitters swing more freely at the plate - a move that goes against the way he's typically coached.
"It's not uncomfortable. It really isn't," he said on changing his style. "I don't feel like I have to bunt. You can't control this game, just go play it."
That change of style was on display in the fourth and sixth innings when the Horns had two opportunities with runners in scoring position.
In the fourth, back to back singles by Taylor Stell and Erich Weiss put runners on first and second. Instead of having Mark Payton bunt the runners over - as Garrido would typically do - he allowed his cleanup hitter to swing away, and the result was a two-RBI triple to deep right field.
"It's fun getting to swing with guys in scoring position and guys with speed that if you hit a gap you know they're going to score from first," Payton said.
With Payton on third Garrido again held off on calling for a bunt and freshman shortstop C.J Hinojosa came through with a base hit to left to give Texas a 3-0 lead.
Up 3-1 after French's wild pitch in the sixth, the Horns had a chance to break it open with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom half of the inning.
Brooks Marlow struck out swinging for the first out and then one of the weirdest double plays you may ever see ended the threat with the Horns only getting one run across.
Weston Hall hit a single down the right field line that scored Matt Moynihan from third. Jacob Felts started the calamity by waiting too long on second before taking off, getting into a situation in which he and Codey McElroy - who had been on first - were both in the vicinity of third base while Hall stood on second.
Hall tried to retreat to first but was quickly tagged out when he went straight for the bag instead of forcing a pickle which would have allowed either Felts to score or McElroy to go back to second. Instead, Hall was tagged out and UCSB had plenty of time to get McElroy as he tried to return to second.
Texas' final run came on a Brooks Marlow RBI single with two outs in the bottom of the eighth - the hit that gave each starting Longhorn a base hit.
The Keystone Kops moment on the base paths was the lone blemish on an otherwise great performance by the Longhorns.
From pitching to defense to hitting, every part of Texas' game was clicking, and it got an important second straight win as it tries to put the four-game slide behind them.
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