OMAHA, Neb. — A sixth inning that lasted more than 3½ hours has Texas within one loss of an offseason that’s even longer.
At TD Ameritrade Park on Sunday, Texas fell 11-5 to Arkansas in its College World Series opener. The defeat sends the Longhorns to the losers’ bracket at the NCAA’s season-ending showcase. UT (42-22) will face either Florida or Texas Tech at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
“We’ve been here before,” said Texas pitcher Nolan Kingham, whose team rallied after dropping the opener in its super regional. “I mean, all we can really look forward to is the next game and worry about Game 2 and move on from there.”
Texas faced a manageable 3-2 deficit when Texas first baseman Jake McKenzie popped up to end the top of the sixth inning. McKenzie’s out was recorded at 3:05 p.m. By the time the sixth inning ended at 6:40 p.m., Texas trailed by nine runs.
Nearly three hours — 2 hours and 49 minutes, to be exact — of the sixth inning’s bottom half was consumed by a weather delay. The Arkansas offense also contributed to UT’s never-ending nightmare.
Kingham, Sunday’s starting pitcher, allowed back-to-back singles to open the inning, leading to his exit. Junior Parker Joe Robinson — nicknamed Houdini last week for his ability to help UT escape jams — immediately issued two walks. Chicago Cubs-drafted reliever Josh Sawyer also walked a Razorback with the bases loaded, and Texas fell behind 5-2 before the weather delay was called.
When talking about his decision to yank Kingham, Texas coach David Pierce conceded that “hindsight is a beautiful thing.” The 12th-round pick of the Atlanta Braves had thrown only 82 pitches. Kingham, who said he’d be available to pitch later in the College World Series, surrendered nine hits and a walk.
Said Kingham: “The pitch count was down, just a couple of balls running away from me and leaving the ball up, and made a few mistakes and they capitalized. And that was it.”
When the game resumed, Texas sent junior Chase Shugart to the mound. Shugart was the presumed starter for UT’s second game in Omaha, but he was asked to stop the bleeding against Arkansas (45-19). Pierce said the plan was for Shugart to only get UT out of the jam, although he would have remained in the game had the Longhorns pulled close in the seventh inning’s top half.
Shugart, however, was unable to get any of his three batters out. He threw 10 pitches, gave up two singles and hit a batter as Arkansas’ lead ballooned to 8-2. Ahead of Sunday’s shellacking, Shugart had allowed one unearned run over 12 2/3 postseason innings.
“I thought Chase threw solid pitches, but they hit early in the count,” Pierce said. “You have to throw quality pitches early, and he threw pitches with velocity but poor location.”
Kamron Fields and Andy McGuire finally recorded three outs for Texas in the sixth inning, but not before Arkansas scored three more times. In the inning, Arkansas compiled eight runs and six singles against UT’s six pitchers.
“Everyone’s down right now, but I’m sure everyone will get over it,” said outfielder Tate Shaw, who had three of Texas’ nine hits. “It’s baseball; you gotta forget.”
Texas kept pace with the Razorbacks over the game’s first half Sunday. In the top of the fifth, David Hamilton gave UT a 2-1 edge with a sacrifice fly.
With one out in the bottom of the fifth, though, McKenzie snagged a sharply hit baseball by Heston Kjerstad with a runner at first base. After an initial bobble, McKenzie got the ball to second base for an out. Hamilton then threw wide as Texas attempted to turn its 72nd double play of the season.
After the Longhorns recovered the baseball, a tag attempt on Kjerstad led to the Razorback shoving McKenzie at the bag — but he was ruled safe. Three pitches later, Luke Bonfield launched a two-out offering from Kingham over the fence in left field.
“Luke swinging the bat put us ahead in the game and gave us a lot of momentum going forward,” Kjerstad said. “And after we took that lead, we never looked back from there.”
Texas is making its 36th appearance at the College World Series. The Longhorns last went 0-for-2 in Omaha in 2011. Sunday was the 13th time UT had allowed double-digit runs in a CWS game.
Around the bases: A seventh-inning substitution for Texas, outfielder Austin Todd contributed a two-run single. Todd, who has battled thumb and shoulder injuries this season, last had an RBI on March 27. … Catcher Michael McCann entered the game alongside Todd and drew two walks in his first appearance since April 28. … Arkansas pitcher Blaine Knight tied a school record with his 13th win of the year. … In 2018, Texas dropped three games to Arkansas by a combined score of 31-14.