Golden: 2005 CWS champs provided a blueprint for this year's Texas baseball team
Horns are a favorite to win seventh national title
- The 2005 Horns went 5-0 in Omaha.
- All-Americans Seth Johnston, Drew Stubbs and J.Brent Cox led the way.
- Texas went 56-16 in 2005.
Memo to the 2021 Texas Longhorns:
We know you have some pressing matters to attend to, but if you have a couple of minutes before starting this College World Series title run, remember your history.
It’s been 16 years since Augie Garrido led the program to its sixth national title, but he added to Cliff Gustafson’s legacy and provided a blueprint for future would-be champions.
The beloved Zen Master has taken his rest, but his students are alive and well.
Drew Stubbs, a 2005 All-American center fielder who played 911 games in the major leagues, was at UFCU Disch-Falk Field for regional and super regional games over the past couple of weeks, as were former UT teammates Seth Johnston, Buck Cody and Kyle McCulloch. They’re no longer baby-faced 20-somethings chasing a national title, but fathers who have remained connected to the program.
“I love their culture,” Stubbs of the current Horns during a roundtable on this week’s "On Second Thought" podcast. “They’re clearly playing for one another. They seem like they’re hungry and ready to get it.”
The 2005 champs were different from this 2021 team in that they were an experienced crew making a return trip to Omaha after losing in the 2004 title series against Cal State Fullerton. That Texas team was playing in its fifth CWS in six seasons; this one has only a handful of players who remain from the 2018 Texas squad that went 0-2 in Omaha.
Both teams are adept at small ball with some good power to boot.
Johnston, an All-American shortstop who hit .378 in 2005, took his three sons to both super regional wins over South Florida and came away impressed with a pair of fleet-footed Horns.
“I sure like watching Trey Faltine at shortstop,” Johnston said. “He’s fun to watch. And I’m glad that somebody finally is faster bigger and stronger and better looking than Stubbs. (Mike) Antico got those stolen bases from him.”
McCulloch, a wiry right-hander who went 12-4, including a 2-0 mark in Omaha, took notice of this team’s strong starting pitching. The Horns can hit but will go only as far as Ty Madden, Tristan Stephens, Pete Hansen and Tanner Witt take them.
The current staff isn’t as deep as the one in 2005 with McCulloch, Randy Boone, Adrian Alaniz (a freshman All-American who no-hit Oklahoma during the regular season and went 2-0 in Omaha) and 6-foot-10 Kenn Kasparek with Cody, Clayton Stewart and J. Brent Cox as the lead dogs out of the pen. Adding to the embarrassment of riches was terrific catcher Taylor Teagarden, who went on to play 180 games in the bigs.
The 2005 team had a 2.80 staff ERA; this year's, one of the nation’s stingiest staffs behind first-team All-American Madden, is at 2.89 and capable of making some noise over the next couple of weeks.
“They look good,” said McCulloch, who was at the super regional. “Their starters are filling the strike zone up. They’re throwing 95, and (Witt) is shutting things down. They have the makings of what you need to make a deep run.”
Cody, also seated in the stands for the supers, was among those who took a gut punch after Witt gave up two ninth-inning homers of the super regional opener but was impressed that the Horns didn’t panic. Texas rallied to score the winning run on Eric Kennedy’s walk-off double.
“One thing I appreciate about this team and something I have really appreciated about Coach Pierce’s teams since he’s been here is the fight,” Cody said. “They consistently fight back, and they fight for him. When the other team scores, we oftentimes answer with a run.”
The 2005 season ended in storybook fashion with a sweep of Florida, but the Horns had a few ups and downs on their way to making history. After starting the season 16-0, they opened Big 12 play with three straight losses to Baylor, leading Garrido to sum up their status in words only Augie could come up with: “We’re No. 1 in the country and last in our league.”
Baylor also eliminated Texas in the Big 12 Tournament, but the Horns exacted their revenge with a pair of wins in Omaha. Johnston took Baylor All-American pitcher Mark McCormick deep in the first inning of the first meeting, and first baseman Chance Wheeless, battling a badly separated shoulder, sent the Bears home in the semifinals.
Nicknamed Sleepy because of his laid-back demeanor, Wheeless persuaded his coaches not to pinch-hit for him and rewarded the decision with a bomb into the right field stands off Baylor’s Ryan LaMotta.
“I had to let him be the hero,” Augie said in the postgame presser.
“Thank you, Coach,” said the hero, seated next to him.
Omaha never would have happened had the Longhorns not gone through the losers’ bracket at home to topple Arkansas, setting up a memorable 2-1 super regional win at Mississippi, whose fans pulled out all stops as hosts, from comments about the mothers and sisters of the visitors to dumping beer into the bullpen, aimed at the heads of Texas pitchers.
Cox was the national stopper of the year, but his two throwing errors in the seventh inning put the Horns in another elimination situation after they dropped the opener of a doubleheader. The hard-nosed closer was in tears between games but pulled it together, as he often did, to close the next two games.
Designated hitter Will Crouch, a former Texas bat boy who allowed Cox to shave his head as part of a bet with Garrido after the Horns won the Texas A&M series, hit a bomb to highlight the series clincher. By the time the Longhorns arrived in Omaha, they were doubly confident because they truly believed to a man that they had already beaten the best team in the country.
Five games later, they stood above the rest.
It was a magical season. Pierce’s Horns have experienced some of the same so far, but there is another level they can reach. Omaha just seems to bring that out in Texas teams.
Stars are stars, but Omaha can reveal heroes farther down the roster such as Wheeless, Crouch and David Maroul, a career .229 hitter who was the 2005 CWS most outstanding player by going 8-for-16 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the sport's biggest stage.
The 2021 Horns have the pieces in place to be the last team standing, but Omaha is rarely a cakewalk.
It all starts with Mississippi State on Sunday.
Besides being super confident, the Horns have another asset in their bag.