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'I'll go to war any day with that guy': Silas Ardoin settles in as Texas catcher, leader

OMAHA, Neb. — After Texas stayed alive at the College World Series with an 8-4 win over Tennessee on Tuesday, Longhorns head coach David Pierce remarked that he had “so many guys that stepped up today."

Relief pitcher Tanner Witt was nearly flawless over 5 2/3 innings. Eric Kennedy homered and stole a base. Mike Antico became the Division I walks leader and made a crashing catch into the center field wall at TD Ameritrade Park.

Then there was Silas Ardoin.

The second-year catcher broke a 4-4 tie with a two-run, two-out single in the fourth inning. Additionally, Ardoin made a key defensive play to help Texas escape a bases-loaded jam.

Texas catcher Silas Ardoin is hitting .247 with 33 RBIs, and has come up big in the NCAA Tournament. He had the decisive hit in Tuesday's win over Tennessee and also scored the walk-off run in a super regional win over South Florida.

"He's a great catcher, the best in the country," Kennedy said.

Obviously, Kennedy is a little biased. Baylor's Andy Thomas and Texas Tech's Braxton Fulford were this year's all-Big 12 catchers. (Ardoin was an honorable mention.) But give the Longhorns a chance to back their boast.

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Ardoin is hitting .247 with 33 RBIs. He had the decisive hit in Tuesday's win over Tennessee. He also scored the walk-off run in a super regional win over South Florida.

Defensively, Ardoin threw out two Mississippi State runners who were attempting to steal a base in UT's College World Series opener on Sunday. Two days later, he was the middle man on the biggest double play the Longhorns have turned this season.

With Texas leading 3-2 in the third inning, Tennessee loaded the bases with no outs. Vols cleanup hitter Drew Gilbert hit a ground ball to third baseman Cam Williams, who bounced his throw to home plate. Ardoin still snagged the wide throw and rifled the ball to first base in time for the second out.

The next batter flew out to right field. Texas escaped the inning unscathed.

"Silas never panicked," Pierce said. "Looked like a shortstop on the pick. And then throws a strike (to first base)."

Texas pitcher Tanner Witt and catcher Silas Ardoin clasp hands after Tuesday's 8-4 win over Tennessee at the College World Series. "I'll go to war any day with that guy," Witt said.

Throughout this season, Ardoin has managed one of the nation's best pitching staffs. Texas (48-16), which faces Virginia (36-26) in another elimination game on Thursday night, leads the country with a 2.89 ERA. Its 1.13 WHIP ranks third.

"I know that the pitchers really look up to me, they rely on me a lot. I have to take ownership of that," Ardoin said earlier this month. "It's my job to just get on them whether they need it. It's my job to be there for them whenever they need me to."

Pierce surmised that Ardoin has built a respectful and friendly rapport with his pitchers. The fifth-year coach said his catcher has a sense of humor and "a knack to soothe the pitching staff."

Ardoin has admitted that it took him awhile to feel comfortable with letting his pitchers see his personality. He wondered aloud to reporters if his teammates would have more respect for him had he been more confident last year. His pitchers, though, didn't seem to mind.

"I'll go to war any day with that guy," Witt said.

Said Texas ace Ty Madden: "I love the kid and he's just going to continue to grow. The kid's going to have a long baseball career."

Texas catcher Silas Ardoin tags out Kansas State's Zach Kokoska as he tries to slide into home during the Longhorns' 9-2 win on April 11 at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

A 36th-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies in high school, Ardoin won an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove award during his senior year of high school. His father, Danny, was a catcher who appeared in 165 games for five major league teams.

Ardoin grew up in Louisiana and originally committed to Louisiana Tech. He reopened his commitment when Cory Barton and Travis Creel, the assistant coaches who recruited him, left for other jobs.

As a freshman last year, Ardoin was mainly deployed as Madden's battery mate. This year, he became the team's primary starter.

Ardoin's ascension has created an interesting dynamic in the UT dugout. Having elected to take advantage of the year of eligibility frozen by the pandemic, DJ Petrinsky is still on the roster. Since transferring from Hill College, Petrinsky has played in 119 career games for the Longhorns. He was the starting catcher for the 2018 Texas team that reached the College World Series.

Petrinsky has started 17 games this season and he views himself as a go-between for the pitchers and position players. As for backing up Ardoin? "I wouldn't want anybody else in front of me," Petrinsky told the American-Statesman.

Petrinsky rooms with Ardoin when Texas goes on the road. Among the changes that the veteran has seen in his young apprentice is an increase in confidence. Petrinsky also doesn't believe that Ardoin has reached his ceiling yet. 

"He's gonna go to work, he's going to get in the lab, start hitting," Petrinsky said. "He's going to the Cape (Cod League) this summer. I think he's going to get some experience and just keep building that confidence. I think he's going to be a big-league catcher for sure."