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Omaha stakes: Texas turns to Tristan Stevens as Tennessee waits in CWS elimination game

Texas outfielder Mike Antico is congratulated by head coach David Pierce as he rounds third base after hitting a home run against Mississippi State on Sunday. That made it a 2-1 game in the ninth inning; the Longhorns ended up losing by that score with the tying run on third base.

OMAHA, Neb. — There are ties that exist between the Texas and Tennessee athletic programs.

Texas soccer coach Angela Kelly was lured away from Tennessee in 2011. Former Longhorns men's basketball coach Rick Barnes is now leading the Volunteers. A last-minute COVID-19 protocols cancellation this winter ended a 19-season streak of matchups between the two schools' women's basketball teams.

In baseball, however, the Longhorns and Vols are essentially strangers. 

Texas has played 5,051 baseball games in its storied history. Tennessee has logged 3,779. But the two schools have played each other only twice, a pair of 5-4 Volunteers victories in 2008 and 2012.

NCAA baseball: How to watch Texas in the 2021 College World Series

Those were both early-season tournament matchups in Houston, however. On Tuesday, Texas (47-16) and Tennessee (50-17) will meet at TD Ameritrade Park in an elimination game at the College World Series.

Tuesday's victor extends its stay in Omaha. For the loser, the offseason begins on Wednesday.

"We are going to compete in a loser’s bracket game and it’s do-or-die for our team and they understand it," Texas head coach David Pierce said. "We have to get past what happened (Sunday's 2-1 loss to Mississippi State) and move forward, and if we do that, we give ourselves the best opportunity to win the game.

"It’s very important that we go out and pitch and play defense, continuing to excel in that piece of the game. When we have opportunity offensively, we have to be ready to attack and be ready to hit pitcher’s mistakes."

UT vs. UT.

Burnt orange vs. Tennessee orange.

Texas Fight vs. Rocky Top.

Those debates won't be settled Tuesday afternoon. Texas and Tennessee will get to decide a winner on the baseball diamond, though.

2021 College World Series:Texas vs. Mississippi State highlights, Bednar strikes out 15

Cam Williams is called out on strikes by the umpire in the fourth inning of Sunday night's 2-1 Mississippi State win at the College World Series. The Longhorns ended up striking out 21 times in the game.

Texas and Tennessee entered the College World Series as the top two remaining seeds in the NCAA Tournament. The second-seeded Longhorns and No. 3 Tennessee were both upset Sunday.

More:After striking out in Omaha, Horns insist 'We're not done yet'

In the 2-1 loss to Mississippi State, Texas struck out 21 times. The Longhorns rallied in the ninth inning, but the game ended with the tying run on third base.

"Tough game offensively, tough ball game," Pierce said. "All we can do is get ready to work tomorrow and get ready to play on Tuesday."

In its Omaha opener, Tennessee was beaten 6-0 by Virginia. The Volunteers also struggled with strikeouts — Tennessee struck out 13 times — and three runners were left stranded at third. Sunday marked the third time in six tournament games that Tennessee allowed at least six runs.

"I thought there were moments whether at the plate or on the mound where we lacked conviction and it cost us a little bit," Tennessee coach Tony Vitello said. "Towards the end of the game, when the score wasn't the way we wanted, we uncharacteristically — rolled over is not the right word, but we lost our edge a little bit, which has been so beneficial to us."

Texas and Tennessee combining for only one run was certainly one of the early surprises at the College World Series. The Longhorns averaged 9.8 runs over their five wins in the regional and super regional rounds. Nationally, Tennessee ranks third in doubles and fourth in home runs.

More:With Texas chasing a title, Tristan Stevens lives out a dream in the Longhorns' rotation

On Tuesday, Texas will look to rebound offensively against Vols freshman Blade Tidwell (10-3, 3.57 ERA). The Longhorns will go with Tristan Stevens (11-3, 2.97), their all-conference pitcher who leads the Big 12 in wins.

Only five pitchers in the country have thrown more innings this season than Stevens. If he lasts into the fifth on Tuesday, he'll pass four of them on the list.

"I think what we've noticed more than anything is how competitive he really is," Pierce has said of Stevens. "Sometimes that doesn't come out until they get opportunity. He's just continuing to do that and has proven in tough situations and in a tough inning, it didn't faze him."

Texas pitcher Tristan Stevens waves to the crowd at UFCU Disch-Falk Field after leaving the game during the Longhorns' 12-4 win over South Florida in last week's NCAA Austin Super Regional.

Last month, Stevens was put into a similar position when he started after Texas lost its opener at the Big 12 Tournament. In an elimination game against rival Oklahoma, he pitched seven innings of four-hit baseball. Texas won 4-1.

A fifth-year junior who grew up in Missouri as a Texas fan, Stevens was on the roster when the Longhorns reached the College World Series in 2018. He was a reserve, so he did not pitch in that postseason.

Stevens told reporters after Texas swept South Florida in the super regionals that "this is what I dreamt of doing ever since I was a kid." He later added that just making it to Omaha wasn't enough for the Longhorns.

"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."