Etier, Horns walk off for win
The Texas shortstop's late hit adds to A&M series lore
AUSTIN, Texas -- If Justin Tucker and Jordan Etier weren't familiar with each other before, they certainly are now.
They'll have to come up with a secret handshake for entrance into the prestigious club of which they are now the lone members, one only eligible to those Longhorns with game-winning moments in what will be their sports' final game against Texas A&M for the foreseeable future.
Tucker, of course, etched his name into Longhorns lore when he split the uprights with a 40-yard field goal as time expired to beat Texas A&M in College Station in what will be the last regular season football game between the two for years.
Before Sunday, Tucker stood to be the only member of that club thanks to a dominating pitching effort by Aggies starting pitcher Rafael Pineda.
The lengthy Pineda baffled Texas hitters for 7 2/3 innings in the series finale by allowing only two hits while striking out five. The run his teammates gave him in the fifth looked like it would be the only one the Aggies would need for a three-game sweep of their hated rival.
But A&M closer Kyle Martin couldn't hold up his end of the bargain.
Longhorns third baseman Erich Weiss and designated hitter Johnathan Walsh singled off of Martin to begin the ninth and were promptly Augie-balled up a base on a sacrifice bunt from first baseman Alex Silver.
Texas catcher Jacob Felts punched a single up the middle to bring Weiss home with the tying run.
A diving snag of Felts' groundball by Aggies second baseman Scott Arthur saved a possible play-at-the-plate situation between Walsh, who was rounding third, and A&M catcher Cole Lankford. As it turned out, Arthur was only delaying the inevitable, as Etier followed by hitting a soft fielder's choice to first baseman Jacob House, which sent Walsh stampeding home.
House made a nice throw home but Walsh, with the help of his teammates in the on-deck circle, was able to bypass the tag for the game-winning run.
"Luckily I had my teammate picking me up," Walsh said. "Not sure who but it was either Tim Maitland or Brooks Marlow on the on-deck circle that kept telling me to get down on the outside. I knew it was going to be close. I have a nice little bruise, but I'll take it. Luckily I got my arm in there. Thank god."
Half of the Longhorns in the dugout sprinted toward Walsh at home. The other half, including those in the right field bullpen, sprinted toward a celebrating Etier around first base.
"The excitement of the crowd really got me amped up," Etier said before his at-bat. "Coach [Augie] Garrido came and got me amped up. We had a little talk. He told me to get the job done and that he had faith in me."
In that rather lengthy conversation between Etier and Garrido, the two discussed the idea of a safety squeeze.
"He switch-hits as you know," Garrido said. "I asked him if he would be more comfortable bunting from the left or right. He said he'd feel more comfortable right-handed. I didn't want to switch him back and forth in the batter's box. I thought about it but thought [Texas A&M coach] Rob Childress is not going to hold the runner at first with the game-winning run on third. He's going to take away the safety squeeze."
So Garrido let Etier hit away and he got just enough of the ball to put it in play, which may have been a blessing in disguise, because it was soft enough to give Walsh the split-second he needed to raise his right arm and avoid the tag.
"It was awesome. It was a team-fault effort after grinding the first two days," Etier said. "We put those in the past and just came out and had fun at the ballpark. The pitching duel today was just outstanding. Our whole team just kept getting better today."
True, much of Texas' credit for this victory has to go to starting pitcher Dillon Peters and reliever Corey Knebel. Peters struck out six and allowed just one hit in four innings while Knebel, Texas' All-American caliber closer, pitched five innings of five-hit ball and struck out five.
In the end, though, in a weekend full of burnt orange headaches, Texas was able to execute beautifully when it mattered most and put Texas a game ahead of A&M and Oklahoma State for second place in the Big 12.
"That means something to the [NCAA tournament selection] committee and everybody," Garrido said. "Every one of these wins is huge. This is one of those crucial ones."
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