Bohls: Longhorns swing and miss — and miss some more — in College World Series opener
- Texas batters struck out 21 times in a 2-1 loss to No. 7 Mississippi State in CWS opener.
- "(Will) Bednar, we still haven't figured him out," Texas coach David Pierce said.
- The defeat obscured a ninth-inning rally paced by Mike Antico's home run and Silas Ardoin's play.
Texas might as well have gone out on strike Sunday night.
Lord knows the Longhorns had enough practice with strikes.
Say what you will, but Texas didn’t get it done in its College World Series opener.
And there’s plenty that could be said about what transpired at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., Sunday night, none of it very good for the Longhorns and especially an unfortunate outcome that didn’t favor the local nine.
The final game of the first four CWS pairings was a 2-1 Texas loss to Mississippi State that featured all manner of quirky baseball, not the least of which included:
• A curious strike zone by home plate umpire Steve Mattingly that basically replicated the length of a bus stop bench.
• Poor plate discipline by Texas batters who either chased pitches in the dirt or near their ankles or flailed at fastballs way out of the zone. They were completely baffled by Will Bednar, who’s either the next Jake deGrom or a very good pitcher who was having the best game of his life with 15 strikeouts in six-plus innings.
• A near total inability to even make contact and put the ball into play so the Longhorns could maximize their speed on the basepaths.
• Balls to the outfield on an outrageously windy evening that played tricks on players like Texas right fielder Doug Hodo III, an accomplished defender who couldn’t come up with a tough out on a ball hit in the right-field corner just inside the foul line for a run-scoring triple after looking as if it would sail into the bleachers.
Heck, there easily could have been pregame jitters for a Texas roster with two players who’d seen action in the CWS in 2018 against a playoff-veteran Mississippi State team making its third consecutive CWS appearance, the longest active streak in the nation.
But a College World Series-record 21 strikeouts are 21 strikeouts.
That’s the bottom line.
And that won’t beat anybody, not in a tournament field that includes some of the best teams in college baseball or at the very least the hottest. Hello, Virginia and North Carolina State, first-game winners.
Now Texas is 0-1 in O-maha, and in oh-so much trouble.
That said, four top national seeds also lost in their openers. No. 3 Tennessee, Texas’ next opponent on Tuesday, got blanked by the upstart Cavaliers. No. 5 Arizona fell, alas to No. 4 and defending champ Vanderbilt, and so too did No. 9 Stanford lose after having obliterated a damn good Texas Tech team in the super regional and barely left a trace.
And an even dozen teams have dropped their openers and still won the CWS, including Texas as far back as 1950 after losing to Rutgers. Oregon State has pulled it off twice, most recently in 2018, but it’s difficult. Only three teams have done it since 1998.
There are no sure things in Omaha, but 35 of the last 39 national champs won their first game.
Quite frankly, however, the Longhorns looked bad, beaten by what appeared to be a superior team, at least on this night. They looked weak and overmatched at the plate and had very poor plate discipline. Yet they lost only 2-1 after Mike Antico’s solo homer in the ninth. The tying run even reached third. It’s tough to strike out 21 times in a game and still be in that game right up until the end.
“I still have faith in us,” said Sunday starter Ty Madden, who wasn’t quite Will Bednar-spectacular but was damn good with 10 strikeouts and only four hits in seven innings. “Y’all should as well.”
Madden’s probably correct.
This is a borderline great team that’s brilliant in pitching and defense and a tad erratic on offense. Like on Sunday. It’s been a disturbing pattern for this team, this nagging inability to match up well with elite pitching, and boy did Mississippi State have plenty of that. And the Horns are going to see lots more.
Sunday’s game marked the 17th time Texas batters have struck out 10 times or more in a game this season. But remarkably, the Longhorns are 9-8 in those games, a credit to their pitching and defense.
“Bednar,” mused Texas coach David Pierce, “we still haven’t figured him out. And then (closer Landon) Sims is Sims. We expected that.”
But he didn’t expect 21 strikeouts, which combined with the 12 strikeouts from Madden and Pete Hansen marked a CWS record.
Had it been only, say, 20 whiffs, and had Mitchell Daly, who became the 21st and final victim in the ninth inning, gotten on base somehow instead by a hit or a hit by pitch or a Supreme Court appeal or a presidential decree or something, Texas might have pulled it out.
Because teammate Ivan Melendez came up with a battle royale in a Herculean, 11-pitch at-bat and singled to left before Cam Williams, choking up, followed with a single into left center, one more hit would have tied this puppy up and sent it into extra innings.
Instead, after that gritty rally fell short when Doug Hodo III routinely bounced out to second base for the final out, Texas finds itself in a treacherous spot, having to battle back through the losers’ bracket, starting with a Tuesday elimination game against super dangerous and potent Tennessee.
“It’s a humbling game,” Pierce said. “Every player that has played this game for any length of time has gone through a tough game like that. Maybe some of our youth came out today and forced some at-bats. I do know we never had a real opportunity to force some action and get (Bednar) out of his comfort zone.”
Not real sure how his infielders even stayed awake. Bednar was that dominant, striking out seven of the first eight batters of the game. No fewer than four Longhorns — Williams, Hodo, Trey Faltine and Silas Ardoin — went down on strikes three times apiece.
But the crowd sure remained alert, aroused by a highly competitive, if very much out of kilter kind of game that wasn’t decided until the final out.
Eventually it was, though, and Texas’ perfect postseason record of 5-0 was snapped, rather harshly when you consider the strikeouts. Where’s Fairfield and Southern when you need them?