Bohls: Longhorns win again, looking to finish strong in the CWS
- Texas surviving adversity, continues long trek out of loser's bracket at the CWS.
- Pete Hansen stills Virginia bats until offense shows up with late rallies.
- Longhorns barely trailed in first two rounds but have been behind or tied in 14 1/2 CWS innings.
And now for the hard part.
Texas dispensed with the necessary preliminaries, fought the good fight to get past pesky, unseeded Virginia and now finds itself rightfully so in the final four of the College World Series.
All the Longhorns have to do now is beat a rugged and rested Mississippi State team twice, starting with a Friday night game a mere 15 hours after finishing up an emotional 6-2 win over the Cavaliers with four critical runs in the last two innings.
Then these No. 2 Longhorns have to take care of the other bracket survivor — either red-hot North Carolina State, which knocked top-seeded Arkansas out of this NCAA Tournament in the super regionals, or defending champion Vanderbilt with God’s gift to pitching — in a best-of-three championship series beginning Monday.
In short, counting Virginia, Texas would need to string together five wins in a span of six or seven days.
OK, so batting a collective .200 as a team can be problematic, and 42 strikeouts in three games? That ain’t good.
But this is a club that saves its hits in the most meaningful spots with clutch at-bats at critical times. Getting four hits in 14 tries with runners in scoring position. That’s not bad. Rediscovering the punch from its bangers, Zach Zubia and Ivan Melendez. That's real good.
And that Longhorns moxie is on full display. Like when shortstop Trey Faltine took a Silas Ardoin throw to peg out a base-stealer and defiantly told the Cav to take a seat in the dugout.
These guys are on a business trip.
“We're not going away,” Horns coach David Pierce said. “I mean, this team is just resilient. They can be ugly at times, play unbelievable defense and pitch. Opportunistic offensively. That's the beauty about this team. And they just keep going. They're going to play until the end.”
There’s better than a decent chance that end is not coming all that soon.
They’ll likely turn to last Sunday's starter and All-American ace Ty Madden for Friday’s game and probably start Kolby Kubichek in the second crack at Mississippi State on Saturday. Heck, Madden was selflessly racing to the bullpen late in Thursday’s game, itching for a chance to seal a win that would prolong his team’s stay.
Virginia’s Brian O’Connor sure took notice.
“Certainly Texas has a terrific ballclub,” the Cavaliers coach said. “You can see why they’re the No. 2 overall seed. They’re very talented in many different ways.”
After all, the Longhorns are still standing and are just barely hitting their stride, at least offensively, an impressive 14 runs in the last two games notwithstanding. The best may be yet to come.
They’ve gotten solid to sensational pitching everywhere they’ve turned, aside from the rare off game from No. 2 starter Tristan Stevens. Five leadoff batters reached safely Thursday. Not a single one score. And only two of them even got as far as second.
Redshirt freshman lefty Pete Hansen became the latest to show off, striking out six in an out shy of six innings and holding Virginia in check before the vaunted Texas bullpen arrived in the form of Cole Quintanilla and Aaron Nixon to blank the Cavaliers on four hits over the final four innings.
You remember the bullpen, right? The rock-steady relievers who haven’t given up a run in Omaha and just five runs in 24 postseason innings this month?
“They’ve been outstanding for three-fourths of the year,” Pierce said. “Once we settled on roles, they’ve just been outstanding.”
Their defense continues to shine. They’ve made just a single error in the three CWS games, a harmless, errant throw by the otherwise brilliant Faltine, and Ardoin at catcher is giving his best Johnny Bench impersonation by showcasing his arm and his glove in game after game, having thrown out four out of six potential base-stealers.
And now they seem ready to unleash their big boppers on MSU as Melendez and Zubia, the No. 3 and 4 hitters in the order, came through with three critical hits and four RBIs between them after starting out a collective 1-for-13 in Omaha.
“He needed that so badly,” Pierce said of Zubia, who got his first hit to stop an 0-for-10 skid.
That might be most significant outcome from Thursday’s victory because Texas appears to be peaking in every other phase and may be on the verge of breaking out of its offensive doldrums.
Interestingly enough, the Longhorns have a total of just three extra-base hits in their two wins, but that’s all they’ve needed.
Eric Kennedy’s three-run jack propelled them to the win over Tennessee on Tuesday while the pair of doubles from Melendez and Zubia may help them shake the rust off their bats and make this team a more potent threat once more.
“I’m going to be the first to say obviously my College World Series start hasn’t been the greatest,” Zubia said. “But that’s just a credit to my teammates, to my coaches who have my back. And who doesn’t like a bases-clearing double at the very end of a game to kind of solidify the win?”
Pierce certainly did.
If not, the Longhorns always have the small ball game. Even though they left the bases loaded in the eighth, they filled them again in the ninth on the strength of a walk, a hit batter and Kennedy’s bunt single to set the table for Zubia.
Texas, as Pierce is fond of saying, doesn’t do easy.
The burnt orange waltzed into TD Ameritrade Park, buttressed by a dominant showing in the regional and super regional when they buried the opposition 48-12 in a five-game sweep.
That’s when adversity struck in the form of Will Bednar, the Mississippi State right-hander who punked the Longhorns in that Sunday strike fest, when Texas struck out a record 21 times. They’ll see him again if they can stretch this bracket final series to Saturday.
But a little adversity never killed anyone.
The same Texas team that trailed for half of one inning in five post-season games at UFCU Disch-Falk Field hadn't held a CWS lead until it had played 11 innings and has been tied or behind in 14 1/2 of the 21 innings in three games so far in Omaha.
But it’s cool. The Horns have shrugged it off.
“We don’t want it to be easy,” Pierce said. “It’s going to be hard. We understand it. They’re going to have blows. You never know how it’s going to happen, but we always have the mindset we’ll figure it out. Some way we’re going to try to figure out how to win this thing.”