AUSTIN, Texas - Junior left-handed pitcher Sam Stafford put in one of the best efforts of his career to lead the No. 5 Texas Longhorns to a 5-3 win over the Princeton Tigers in NCAA Austin Regional action at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Friday night.
Stafford (6-2) yielded just one run on two hits and three walks while striking out six over 7.0 innings of work to earn the win. It matched the longest outing of his career, a 7.0-inning start at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on April 5, 2011.
The Longhorns manufactured a pair of runs without a hit in the bottom of the first inning. Tant Shepherd drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Mark Payton. Brandon Loy followed with a walk and a double-steal put two runners in scoring position. Erich Weiss bounced a grounder to second base to bring Shepherd home and Loy scored on a wild pitch to give Texas the 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers cut the lead to 2-1 with a run in the top of the fifth inning. Alex Flink was issued a walk to start the inning and advanced to second when Loy failed to touch the bag on a tailor-made double play groundout by Nate Baird. With two outs, Matt Bowman deposited a 2-2 offering into the gap in left centerfield send Flink home.
Texas (44-15) responded with a pair of runs in the home half of the fifth. With one out, Jacob Felts singled to leftfield and scored when Shepherd launched a 2-1 pitch into the visitor's bullpen down the leftfield line for a two-run home run.
Princeton (23-23) put the outcome in doubt with a pair of runs in the eighth inning. Nathan Thornhill came out of the bullpen to relieve Stafford in the eighth and yielded a pinch-hit single to Alex Keller and a double down the leftfield to put a pair of runners in scoring position. Hoby Milner spelled Thornhill and gave up an run-scoring single to John Mishu and an RBI fielder's choice groundout to Mike Ford to cut the Longhorns' lead to 5-3. Corey Knebel trotted in from the bullpen and induced an inning-ending double play to quell the rally.
Knebel gave up a pinch-hit single by Ryan Albert to start the ninth inning, but Jordan Etier made a spectacular play in shallow right centerfield, diving to spear a hump-back liner off the bat of Steve Harrington. Knebel recorded the next two outs with relative ease to pick up his 17th save of the season. He allowed one hit over 1.2 scoreless innings.
Zak Hermans (5-2) was saddled with the loss, working 4.1 innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks while striking out three.
Payton was the lone Longhorn to register multiple hits, going 2-for-2 with one double, one sacrifice bunt and one RBI. Shepherd went 1-for-2 with two walks, two runs, one home run, one stolen base and two RBI. Loy went 1-for-1 with three walks, one double and one stolen base.
Bowman led the Tigers with two hits, including one double, and added one run and one RBI.
Texas returns to action on Saturday with a 6:30 p.m. contest against the Kent State Golden Flashes. Princeton faces the Texas State Bobcats in an elimination game at 1 p.m. on Saturday.