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Golden: Omaha-bound Longhorns have appreciated their 10th Man support

Cedric Golden
Austin American-Statesman
Tristan Stevens celebrates Sunday's 12-4 super regional  win over South Florida at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The win sent the Longhorns to the College World Series for a record 37th time.
  • Novak Djokovic is making a run at greatest tennis player ever.
  • Texas punched its ticket to a record 37th College World Series after a sweep of South Florida.
  • Kevin Durant has a new nemesis in fellow Texas ex P.J. Tucker
  • Texas baseball has won five straight games since being eliminated at the Big 12 Tournament

This week’s Nuggets are dedicated to Occupy Left Field, the ride-or-die Texas baseball spirit group that’s leading the fan celebration as a trip to Omaha beckons the highest surviving national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

This past weekend was a huge love-in between Texas baseball and the UFCU Disch-Falk attendees after the home team concluded the sweep of previous giant killer South Florida in the Austin Super Regional on Sunday night.

The party was on, starting with junior pitcher Tristan Stevens, who was parading around the infield with a giant sign that read "Ticket Punched 2021." This is the school’s record 37th trip to the College World Series, if you’re scoring from home.

Golden: On Texas baseball's CWS chase, Mavericks' woes, Serena's battle with time

“It was a surreal moment,” Stevens said. “I was on the 2018 team when it happened and then 2019 wasn’t the way we wanted it to be and 2020 was obviously cut short. So to be holding that and celebrating with your guys, there’s nothing more you can ask for. This is what I’ve dreamt of doing since I was a kid and to see it come to fruition, there’s no way to describe it.”

The weekend wasn’t just about the Horns making it to the final eight, but about how the fans were that important 10th man on the field. The Disch was near capacity for both games and it was obvious, judging by the control problems suffered by USF pitching on Sunday — 12 walks, two hit batsmen and two wild pitches — that the electric crowd played a key role.

Texas has gone 5-0 in its home regional and super regional of the NCAA Tournament. In the two weekend super regional wins over South Florida, more than 7,000 fans were on hand at UFCU Disch-Falk Field to cheer on the Lonhgorns.

The love continued into the postgame, where the team ran out to left field to return the love they got from the Occupy LF crew. Even athletic director Chris Del Conte showed his appreciation by doing a Jell-O shot with baseball’s most loyal tailgaters behind the left field wall. Coach David Pierce, as he has the entire postseason, gave props to the Disch patrons, who numbered 7,267.

Bohls:Texas baseball, College Football Playoff format both getting bigger and better

Now it’s on to Omaha. The time for celebrating is short because the Horns will have the biggest target on their back with the news that top-seeded Arkansas won’t be making the trip after losing at home to North Carolina State, two days after it had crushed the Wolfpack 21-2 in Game 1.

“It’s a lot tougher to get to Omaha than people understand,” Pierce said. “The city is thrown around like it’s just going to happen, then you see some great teams not make it this week. It’s unfortunate when you put in all the work, but it’s baseball. In baseball, you never know what’s going to happen.”

Golden: Poise under pressure pushes Horns to Omaha's doorstep

We do know Omaha is happening for the Longhorns, who opened as a 9-1 favorite to win the CWS before the regional round. The smart people who jumped on those early numbers are feeling pretty good right about now.

Milwaukee's P.J. Tucker, right, and Brooklyn's Kevin Durant — a pair of Texas exes — literally went nose to nose during a second-half dustup in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last Thursday. Tucker has emerged as a factor on the defensive end against Durant, who struggled through a 9-of-25 shooting performance in  a Game 4 loss Saturday.

P.J. clamps down on K.D.: You read in this space recently that the Dallas Mavericks are in dire need of a junkyard dog to lessen the defensive load on their perimeter players, particularly face-of-the-franchise Luka Doncic.

Someone like P.J. Tucker, basically.

The Milwaukee Bucks forward conducted a master class in physical defense in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with fellow Texas ex and Brooklyn star Kevin Durant serving as his unlikely class project.

One game after the two went nose to nose in a dustup that ended with Durant’s personal security guard running onto the court and bumping into Tucker instead of serving as a peacemaker — the NBA banned the clown for the rest of the postseason — Tucker played the key role in one of Durant’s poorest shooting performances of his postseason career.

Tucker got in his chest and in his head, frustrating one of the sweetest shooters in league history to 28 points on 9-of-25 field goal attempts. Durant also missed seven of his eight 3-point attempts and scored only nine points on 25% shooting with Tucker as the primary defender.

NCAA baseball:Texas vs. South Florida Game 2 highlights

Tucker, who also scored 13 points, walked that fine line between physicality and Bad Boy Pistons Defense 101, which was not lost on Nets coach Steve Nash.

"I thought it was borderline non-basketball physical at times, but that's the playoffs,” Nash complained to reporters. “You have to adapt and adjust. Something definitely in a sense changed from the way the game was played in Brooklyn and here in Milwaukee.”

With the series tied 2-2 and the Nets taking the court in Game 5 Tuesday without injured starting guards Kyrie Irving (ankle) and James Harden (hamstring), it could all fall on K.D., who was famously blasted years ago for leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder to join a ready-made championship team in Golden State.

He’s great enough to bounce back but will have to go through Tucker to do so.

Novak Djokovic celebrates after defeating Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday's French Open final. Djokovic won his 19th major and needs only one more to tie Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for the most major singles titles by a male in tennis history.

Novak will top Fed, Rafa (No Djoke): Novak Djokovic will leave tennis as the greatest male singles player ever,

Now before you Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal fans flood my inbox or worse yet, before you Rod Laver fans start penning a 10-page letter, hear me out.

When Djokovic beat Nadal in four sets — Rafa is 105-3 at the French, and two of those losses came to the Djoker — the world No. 1 sent a message that he was chasing more than just a French Open crown, which he captured two days later in five sets.

He’s chasing history.

His 19th major win places him just one behind Federer and Nadal for the most ever. Add to that, he is a combined 57-51 against those two and a solid 18-16 against them in grand slam matches. He’s also the only one of three players (Laver and Roy Emerson) to win all four majors twice.

If he wins Wimbledon next month — and he’s favored — the sport’s Big Three will enter the U.S. Open with 20 majors each.

My money is on Djokovic to leave Wimbledon — and the sport — as the greatest ever.