Texas 4, South Florida 3: Walk-off win inches Longhorns closer to the College World Series
Eric Kennedy made sure that the crowd at UFCU Disch-Falk Field didn't stay silent for long Saturday night.
His two-out double in the bottom of the ninth inning lifted Texas to a dramatic 4-3 walk-off win over South Florida in the opening game of the Austin Super Regional. Kennedy's winner came just a few minutes after the underdog Bulls stunned the announced crowd of 7,180 with a pair of home runs to tie the game 3-3.
The Longhorns (46-15) are one win away from advancing to the College World Series for the 37th time. Texas and South Florida will play again at 8 p.m. Sunday. Game 3, if needed, would be Monday.
"This is the reason you play college baseball, for experiences and moments like this," Kennedy said. "This is the kind of moment you dream of as a little kid." Leading 3-0 in the ninth inning, Texas sent reliever Tanner Witt back out to the mound. Having already retired the first four Bulls he'd faced, Witt was eying his sixth save of the season.
South Florida's Daniel Cantu, however, homered to lead off the inning, cutting the Longhorns' lead to 3-1.
Witt quickly recorded two outs before allowing a double. Drew Brutcher then crushed a full-count offering over the right-field wall to tie the game.
South Florida's Brad Lord sat down the first two Longhorns in the bottom of the ninth, but Bulls shortstop Nick Gonzalez bobbled a slow grounder off the bat of Silas Ardoin to extend the inning. One pitch later, Kennedy doubled over Roberto Peña's head in center field. Ardoin scored from first base without a throw.
"We went over the scouting report and I know (Lord) was fastball, slider," Kennedy said. "It looked like he was getting ahead with everyone with the fastball. I just told myself to get ready on time."
Ardoin, a second-year catcher, has stolen just one base in his collegiate career. Texas coach David Pierce told reporters afterwards that he likely would have called for a pinch-runner had there not been two outs in the inning.
So, jokes about Ardoin's speed were crowd pleasers at UT's postgame press conference. Kennedy mused that Pierce, who was coaching in the third base box, nearly beat Ardoin home. The 58-year-old Pierce added that "I actually could have taken him. I didn't want to score before him, so I backed off."
Ardoin's mad dash wasn't the only speed showcased by the Longhorns on Saturday night.
To lead off the first inning, Mike Antico drew a walk on five pitches. He stole second base, moved to third base on an infield single and scored on a fielder's choice. Antico has now walked 58 times this season; he's recorded 21 steals off them. Seven of those walk-and-steal sequences have come in the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments.
One inning later, Antico drove in Kennedy with a double to make it 2-0. Kennedy had extended the inning when he beat out a two-out infield single. He was initially ruled out but a replay overturned that call.
"I wish I had nine of them, to be honest with you because it's fun," Pierce said of Antico and Kennedy. "It's just entertaining and it just puts so much pressure on the defense."
Kennedy later made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly in the seventh inning, which looked like a lead to put Longhorns starting pitcher Ty Madden in line for the win.
Madden, this year's Big 12 pitcher of the year, wasn't perfect — he allowed three hits and walked four — but not a single Bull reached third base against him.
Pierce pulled Madden after he allowed a second runner to reach base with two outs in the seventh. He threw 107 pitches in 6 2/3 innings.
"For him to go out tonight, lay it on the line and give everything he had," Pierce said. "Again, you just can't ask for anything else from him."
Madden wouldn't say whether the game was his final start at Disch-Falk. Many have projected him to be a first-round pick in next month's MLB amateur draft; he's currently No. 9 on MLB.com's list of the draft's top prospects.
Madden hugged Ardoin, who has been his battery mate since last season, before exiting to a standing ovation. The fans also requested a curtain call. Madden obliged.
"It's been a crazy three years," he said. "I think people have definitely seen the lows and the highs. (The ovation) was definitely special. It's something I will remember for the rest of my life."
Around the bases: Texas' Tristan Stevens (10-3, 2.77 ERA) is set to be opposed in the second game of the best-of-three series by USF's Collin Sullivan (3-3, 3.69). ... Former UT coach Cliff Gustafson and former quarterback Sam Ehlinger were among those in attendance. ... Texas first baseman Zach Zubia extended his on-base streak to 37 games. ... Both teams registered six hits.