Baseball

Worthy hosts? Texas must play the NCAA’s waiting game after early exit from Big 12 tournament

Two-and-done Texas finds out Sunday whether it will be one of 16 national hosts for a regional; it was the earliest exit for a Big 12 top seed since 2015

Posted May 24th, 2018

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OKLAHOMA CITY — So, now what?

One day after top-seeded Texas’ 3-2 loss to eighth-seeded Kansas, the Longhorns once again couldn’t find enough offense against Oklahoma. The 3-1 loss Thursday morning eliminated Texas — the conference’s regular season champion — from the Big 12 baseball tournament, the earliest tournament exit for a No. 1 seed since TCU went 0-2 in 2015.

The Longhorns (37-20) now must wait until Sunday evening to find out if they’ll host one of the 16 regionals of the NCAA tournament that begins June 1.

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Texas coach David Pierce said five to seven teams from the Big 12 are worthy of an NCAA tournament invitation, whose field will be announced Monday. He projected that two Big 12 teams should host a regional. And at least two of his players say the Longhorns, who are ranked 12th in this week’s D1Baseball poll, are one of those sure-fire hosts.

“I think our résumé is definitely strong enough,” pitcher Josh Sawyer said. “Winning the Big 12, which is one of the best conferences out there. I think our résumé and how we’ve played over the past 35 games has done enough for us to get a hosting positioning.”

Senior Jake McKenzie was blunt in his assessment: “I think we should host a regional.”

Texas infielder Kody Clemens is out at second with the tag by Oklahoma infielder Kyle Mendenhall as the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) play the University of Texas Longhorns (UT) in the Big 12 Baseball Championship at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, on Thursday, May 24, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Okla. (Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman)

After never leading Wednesday against the Jayhawks, Texas found itself in a 2-0 hole against the Sooners after OU’s Blake Brewster led off the third inning with a home run. Both teams scored in the fifth inning but Texas was unable to close the two-run gap at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Texas left runners in scoring position in four of the first five innings; in the fifth, the Longhorns loaded the bases with no outs but managed only one run thanks to a double play and a strikeout. The Sooners (35-22), using five pitchers, held Texas to six hits but the OU bullpen, which worked five innings, allowed only one — David Hamilton’s bunt single in the first at-bat following starter Nathan Wiles’ exit.

A relief pitcher, Levi Prater, was credited with the win; he got the Sooners out of that bases-loaded jam in the fifth. Cade Cavalli gave Oklahoma two hitless innings of relief after starting the game at first base. Left-hander Braidyn Fink was used for only one out in the eighth, but it was a strikeout of Big 12 player of the year Kody Clemens.

“I think we faced a few good pitchers, that’s pretty obvious,” said McKenzie, whose team averaged 6.2 runs per game in Big 12 play during the regular season and won two of three games in Norman in mid-April. “Everybody’s throwing their best guys, especially Oklahoma. They don’t even know if they’re in a regional; they are going to throw everything they’ve got at us.”

Texas starter Nolan Kingham took the loss after surrendering eight hits and a walk. All three of those runs were earned, although one was a hard-luck score — a bobbled grounder by Hamilton kept UT from getting OU leadoff hitter Cade Harris on a double play, and Harris later scored on Kyler Murray’s RBI single.

Pierce was ejected in the sixth inning for arguing a walk call that loaded the bases. He did not attend the post-game press conference but said through a team spokesperson that, “Our umpires work very hard and I was just fighting for our team.”

Around the bases: Outfielder Duke Ellis drew a walk and was hit by a pitch, but his 16-game hitting streak ended. … Murray, an outfielder who could be Oklahoma’s starting quarterback this fall, left the game after suffering an undisclosed injury on a first-inning steal. OU coach Skip Johnson said Murray was day-to-day. … After pitching one inning on Wednesday, Andy McGuire started in right field and scored UT’s only run. … Three Texas relievers — Chase Shugart, Sawyer and Parker Joe Robinson — allowed one hit and four walks over 3 2/3 innings.

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