Texas 8, Tennessee 4: Tanner Witt shines in relief as Longhorns avoid CWS elimination
OMAHA, Neb. — The fourth inning ended up being a bad time to visit the concession stand Tuesday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Sure, the entire inning lasted more than 50 minutes. That left Texas and Tennessee fans plenty of time to get those peanuts and Cracker Jacks. But if anyone blinked, they may have missed:
• Six hits.
• Three pitching changes.
• One highlight reel-double play, another close call at home plate, two official reviews and a coach ejection.
By the time the final out of the frame was recorded, Texas had broken a short-lived tie to take a 7-4 lead. The Longhorns held on and beat Tennessee 8-4 in an elimination game at the College World Series.
The win keeps second-seeded Texas (48-16) alive in Omaha. The Longhorns will play another elimination game at 6 p.m. Thursday against Virginia.
"We had so many stars, so many guys that stepped up today," Texas coach David Pierce said. "That's what we needed."
Boosted by a three-run homer from Eric Kennedy, Texas led 4-2 at the start of the fourth inning. But Tennessee (50-18) scored twice in the frame and chased UT starter Tristan Stevens from the game.
With the game tied 4-4, Texas opened the inning's bottom half with two walks and two strikeouts. The Longhorns then strung together three straight hits. Silas Ardoin's two-run single plated a pair of runs and the Texas catcher later scored on a Cam Williams single.
"We were ready for any situation," Kennedy said. "That's the way we like it. We don't want it to be easy. We were ready for whatever Tennessee had for us."
Said Vols designated hitter Pete Derkay of the fourth inning: "I would say just we didn't make a couple pitches in some situations and they put a good swing on the ball and capitalized on some mistakes."
On Ardoin's single, a replay was needed to confirm that Douglas Hodo III slid under the tag of Tennessee catcher Connor Pavolony. That was one of two replays that went in the Longhorns' favor that inning. In the inning's top half, Texas had escaped a jam when a review confirmed that second baseman Mitchell Daly and shortstop Trey Faltine had successfully turned a double play.
The 4-6-3 double play came one inning after Texas turned a double play that featured Williams throwing from third to Ardoin at home, and Ardoin then firing the baseball to first base. Tennessee had loaded the bases with no outs, but that double play and a flyout thwarted the threat.
"We just played great defense," Kennedy said. "It was awesome to see us suck the life out of their offense."
The three-run lead was enough to support Tanner Witt, a freshman who gave Texas 5 2/3 innings of three-hit relief. Witt moved to 5-0 with the win. He has also recorded five saves.
Witt allowed a single immediately after relieving Stevens in the third. Only two more Volunteers would reach base the rest of the game.
"I live for this moment," Witt said. "This is the moment I've always dreamed for. I love that big stage, big atmosphere. And I feel like I only get better in those situations because that's what I live for."
A likely contender for a spot in the starting rotation next season, Witt had pitched at least two innings in 15 of his 27 appearances. Tuesday's 5 2/3 innings were a career-high.
"Future of Texas pitching is in good hands," Kennedy said. "As a freshman, he's the most poised pitcher I've ever seen. Nothing fazes him. He's been nails all season, and that just continued on the biggest stage.
"I know a lot of guys, if that was their first appearance (in the College World Series), they would be walking a bunch of guys or not have their stuff. But he was able to do what he's been doing all year, and he's been great for us all year."
Limited to one run and four hits in a 2-1 loss to Mississippi State on Sunday, Texas finished with seven hits against Tennessee. The Longhorns added a run in the sixth inning when Kennedy scored on a wild pitch.
Around the bases: Tennessee volunteer coach Ross Kivett was ejected in the fourth inning. ... Zach Zubia went 0-for-4 and had his on-base streak ended at 39 games. ... After drawing two walks, Texas outfielder Mike Antico overtook Central Michigan's Mario Camilletti for the Division I lead. Antico complemented his 61st and 62nd walks with his 40th steal, which rank second nationally. ... The 3 1/3 innings pitched by Stevens was a season low. ... After striking out 21 times against Mississippi State, the Longhorns had nine strikeouts Tuesday.