OMAHA, Neb. — The Longhorns’ offensive engine picked a terrible time to stall out.
Texas’ batters knocked UC Irvine starter Andrew Morales around but couldn’t get anybody all the way around the bases. The Anteaters broke loose late with three runs in the eighth and captured a 3-1 victory at the College World Series.
The Longhorns (43-20) got runners aboard in all but three innings. But they wound up stranding 12 and now face elimination on Monday against the Louisville-Vanderbilt loser at TD Ameritrade Park.
The Longhorns took a 1-0 lead in the second when Zane Gurwitz got a bunt down on a squeeze play that allowed Collin Shaw to score. That lead held up for the next five innings as starter Nathan Thornhill worked through the Anteaters’ lineup, retiring eight in a row at one point.
In his previous two NCAA tournament starts, Thornhill was lifted after getting through seven innings. But against Irvine, he went to the mound in the eighth and things fell apart.
Adam Alcantara singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Then, Taylor Sparks hammered a ball into the left field power alley for an RBI triple. It was easily the hardest hit ball of the day, and UT pitching coach Skip Johnson quickly went out to remove Thornhill.
Middle reliever Travis Duke looked warmed and ready in the bullpen. Yet Johnson brought on closer John Curtiss, who nearly got decapitated when Chris Rabago drilled the first pitch into center field for a single. Irvine suddenly had the lead, the momentum and the fans.
The Omaha crowd loves any underdog. UC Irvine certainly qualifies as one of the last teams to get into the field of 64. Considering many locals are Nebraska fans, it doesn’t take much to get them going against Texas. So the fans were roaring their approval when Irvine’s Jonathan Munoz drove in Rabago, giving the ‘Eaters a two-run cushion before the inning was over.
If that wasn’t bad enough, senior outfielder Mark Payton’s streak of reaching safely in 101 consecutive games came to an end. He went 0-for-4 with a sac bunt in the first inning.
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