Texas 12, South Florida 4: Longhorns head back to College World Series after sweeping Bulls
Nearly four months ago, Texas opened its baseball season in Arlington.
Later this month, the Longhorns' final pitch will be thrown in Omaha.
Texas overcame an early deficit and rolled to a 12-4 win over South Florida at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Sunday night. The No. 2 Longhorns (47-15) completed a super regional sweep and advanced to the College World Series.
After the win, UT players and the announced crowd of 7,267 celebrated the program's 37th trip to the CWS. Junior pitcher Tristan Stevens, though, said the Longhorns will quickly turn their focus to winning UT's seventh national championship.
"This team is never satisfied and we know what we're capable of," Stevens said. "This is just another pit stop on a great journey that hopefully this team can cap off with a national championship."
Texas will face either Mississippi State or Notre Dame in its College World Series opener. That game will be played on either Saturday or Sunday.
North Carolina State upset No. 1 Arkansas earlier Sunday, so Texas will be the highest seed in Omaha. The Longhorns are the NCAA Tournament's second overall seed.
The second game of the best-of-three super regional featured slightly less drama than Saturday night's opener. In Game 1, Texas' Eric Kennedy doubled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 4-3 victory.
While celebrating the walk-off win, Stevens wildly waved his arms in an attempt to pump up an already excited crowd. When asked later about Stevens' animated antics, fellow pitcher Ty Madden just joked that "you can't cage the beast."
A day later, South Florida (31-30) was indeed unable to "cage the beast." The Bulls did temporarily tranquilize Stevens, though.
Stevens needed 20 pitches to get through the first inning that featured two walks, a hit batter and a two-run single. The control issues were uncommon for him; Stevens' 1.57 walks-per-nine-innings average ranked 34th nationally. Earlier this season, he faced 113 straight batters without issuing a walk.
"I didn't have my stuff, to be honest with you," Stevens said. "Whether it was sinker, change-up, slider, it wasn't my ace stuff. When you have those kinds of days, you pitch with heart, you don't pitch with what you've got."
Stevens eventually recovered and led Texas into the sixth inning. He recorded three strikeouts while allowing eight hits and four runs. In the fourth frame, he fielded a bunt and flipped the ball to catcher Silas Ardoin for an out at home.
Stevens was pulled with two outs in the sixth. As he exited, he received an ovation from the Disch-Falk Field crowd.
"It was a special time for him," UT coach David Pierce said. "Even though we had given up four runs, for him to get the recognition from the fan base is pretty cool."
Down 2-0 after the first inning, UT responded to its first deficit of the NCAA Tournament with a four-run second session. Texas scored twice in the third and its lead never again dipped below three runs.
In the blowout, two run-scoring doubles from Trey Faltine and Cam Williams' two-run homer paced a 10-hit attack. Williams also drew four of UT's 12 walks. Faltine was hit by two pitches.
"If you get popped, you pop back," first baseman Zach Zubia said of UT's mentality. "We try to let the momentum never swing too far for the opposing team."
Not too long ago, Texas was coming off three losses at a season-opening showcase at Arlington's Globe Life Field. Since that early stumble, Texas has gone 47-12. It earned a share of the Big 12's regular season championship. It won its five games in the NCAA Tournament by a combined score of 49-12.
"Like we said after the first weekend, that wasn't the team that we knew we could be," Stevens said. "We just put our heads down and went to work."
Around the bases: Peyton Powell delivered a pinch-hit single for Texas in the seventh inning ... In what was likely his last at-bat at Disch-Falk, Zubia singled in a run and extended his on-base streak to 38 games. ... Cole Quintanilla and Aaron Nixon pitched 3 1/3 innings of no-hit, two-walk relief. ... The Bulls used seven pitchers; Collin Sullivan was tagged with the loss.