Golden: Why Texas is not only still alive in Omaha, but with plenty of gas left in tank
Horns play again Thursday
- Texas turned two highlight-reel double plays in the third and fourth to avoid major damage.
- It was the fourth meeting between Texas and Tennessee.
And built to continue.
Why not Texas?
Why not believe the Longhorns, as they're currently constructed, can successfully navigate this losers' bracket and win this thing?
The first order of business was to avoid Checkout Day on Wednesday in Omaha.
Place the 8-4 win over Tennessee at the College World Series under the heading "Had to Have It."
"It benefits our team if we can get in the flow of this tournament and show we can play with any team in the country," said Texas coach David Pierce, who earned his first CWS win as a head coach.
Texas 8, Tennessee 4:Tanner Witt shines in relief as Longhorns avoid CWS elimination
His Horns did what they had to do in an emotionally charged affair against Tennessee that had every ingredient you would expect from a CWS elimination game. The home-plate umpire issued time warnings to each starting pitcher, then the third base umpire ejected Vols assistant coach Ross Kivett — who was standing in the far-away first-base dugout — for arguing. Kivett unleashed a volley of expletives that was easy to translate due to sheer repetition.
The Horns (48-16) aren’t dead by a long shot. They have plenty of pitching left. Their regular-season Sunday starter Pete Hansen logged a couple of innings in the opener against Mississippi State on Sunday, but is likely available for Thursday night. Add in fresh arms Kolby Kubichek, Cole Quintanilla, Aaron Nixon and Lucas Gordon and the Horns are still in business.
So why not Texas?
There is a precedent of a Longhorns team taking the scenic route to get to the championship. The 1950 Horns hit an early snag in defense of their first national title when they lost 4-2 to Rutgers in the first round, but caught fire and outscored the opposition 40-11 en route to a second championship.
This Texas team is still in the mix thanks to some timely hitting and a defense that played its most money game of the season.
f the Horns pull off this losers' bracket comeback and win it all, we will all point to two things from Tuesday's win: the yeoman relief pitching from freshman Tanner Witt — who gave up only three hits over 5 2/3 innings — and a pair of double plays that kept a lumberjack Vols offense from blowing things wide open early on.
The first twin killing prevented a certain disaster after the Volunteers loaded the bases in the third inning against Tristan Stevens, who didn’t make it to the sixth for the first time in 17 starts.
Third baseman Cam Williams, who uncharacteristically failed to charge a bunt against the previous hitter, responded by gloving Drew Gilbert’s grounder and firing to home plate for the force out. The throw was wide, but catcher Silas Ardoin caught the throw with his foot on the plate and fired to first. Stevens then got Evan Russell on a popup to end the threat.
"Silas with that backhand — not a lot of catchers would be able to do that," said left fielder Eric Kennedy. "Then getting the guy at first — they were trying to get back in it — that kind of sucked the life out of them."
The second double play, one inning later with Witt on the mound, was just as impactful. Second baseman Mitchell Daly snagged a hot chopper and wheeled to second to start a 4-6-3 double play after the Volunteers had scored two runs to tie it 4-4.
The Horns edged out front on Ardoin's two-run single in the fourth, and Witt and Co. made it hold up.
Not wanting to stick with what didn’t work in Sunday's opener, Pierce moved some things around in the batting order. Williams, one of four Longhorns to get a hit off Mississippi State in that embarrassing K-fest, moved up from fifth in the batting order. Shortstop Trey Faltine moved up one spot to sixth.
If ever there was a time to shake things up, it was an elimination game following a CWS-record 21 strikeouts.
During this week’s "On Second Thought" podcast, 2005 CWS champion Drew Stubbs said Omaha usually provides an opportunity for non-stars to grab the spotlight. Well, just like third baseman David Maroul — a .229 hitter who earned most outstanding player honors at the 2005 CWS — Kennedy, a former platoon player batting eighth, continued his postseason surge with a three-run homer in the second. The super regional hero then followed with a stolen base and a run on a passed ball in the sixth.
The bottom of Texas' order had its fingerprints all over a ride-or-die Tuesday afternoon at TD Ameritrade Park.
So the Longhorns are still in play. They rose from their previous nine-inning slumber against Mississippi State and will take the field for another loser-leaves-town matchup with more confidence on Thursday.
How far they go remains to be seen, but they were never going to win a national championship without winning one game first.
Enjoy this ride, Texas fans. Your Longhorns still have plenty of gas left in the tank.