Texas 8, Mississippi State 5: Melendez's blast moves Longhorns within a win of CWS finale
OMAHA, Neb. — Over the course of this season, Texas designated hitter Ivan Melendez has hit his fair share of memorable home runs.
There was his homer at Globe Life Field in Texas' season opener in Arlington back in February. He went deep in the Austin Regional against Southern. During a stretch in which he homered in a school-record six straight games, Melendez hit two balls that traveled an estimated 451 and 471 feet and another one that cleared the batter's eye at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
Friday night, those mammoth moments all became footnotes.
Melendez's 13th home run of the season was his biggest: a three-run blast in the ninth inning that lifted Texas to an 8-5 win over Mississippi State at TD Ameritrade Park, helping the Longhorns overcome a stunning eighth-inning collapse and keep their season alive at the College World Series.
It sets the stage for Saturday night's winner-take-all third meeting of this CWS between Texas (50-16) and Mississippi State (47-17). The winner advances to play Vanderbilt in the best-of-three championship series, which will start Monday.
"It's do or die for both teams," Melendez said.
Saturday's showdown seemed pretty much set in stone after seven innings. Texas held a 5-2 lead. But the Bulldogs rallied in the eighth against Longhorns relief pitcher Tanner Witt and closer Aaron Nixon.
Earlier in the week, Witt and Nixon had successfully closed out elimination games against Tennessee and Virginia. In the bottom of the eighth inning, however, Witt gave up a double and then walked three straight batters. After Nixon came in with the bases loaded and the score 5-3, the Bulldogs tied the game when Brad Cumbest singled off the glove of UT second baseman Mitchell Daly.
But as rain began to fall in Omaha, the Longhorns quickly responded.
Mike Antico drew a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth inning and was bunted over to second base. Zach Zubia then walked, putting runners on first and second with one out.
That brought up Melendez, who worked the count full before he crushed Bulldogs reliever Parker Stinnett's low pitch into the left field bleachers.
"I knew when it came off his bat it was gone," Texas coach David Pierce said. "He absolutely hammered that pitch."
Texas fans had plenty of time to celebrate Melendez's homer — about 2½ hours. After the homer, the Bulldogs made another pitching change, but then a weather delay brought the tarp onto the field. The two teams were called off the field at 10:39 p.m. The ninth inning did not resume until 1:06 a.m.
Texas loaded the bases after the long break but failed to add any more runs. Nixon, who had pitched 1 2/3 innings in Thursday's win over Virginia and threw 12 pitches Friday night before the delay, returned to the mound.
The Bulldogs got two runners on board, bringing the tying run to the plate, but Nixon got a groundout to shortstop Trey Faltine to end the game.
Pierce was asked after the game why he decided to keep Nixon in after the delay.
"I've been in that situation many times," he said. "I've talked to medical teams; I understand it. As long as you're not in any kind of stress situation, just want to keep your body loose or hot and basically play light catch about every 15, 20 minutes and just keep moving. That's what he did. He was ready to go. We were good there.
"It wasn't that difficult of a decision. It's something that we trusted with Aaron, and that's what we did."
Said Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis: "We took a punch there in the top of the ninth, and our kids came out of the rain delay and they were ready to play. They felt like they could win the game then. And I'm sure they're going to go to bed tonight and feel confident to play a great game tomorrow."
Saturday night's game is Texas' and Mississippi State's fourth meeting this season. The Bulldogs recorded an 8-3 win Feb. 20 in the opener for both schools. Texas opened its 37th appearance at the CWS last Sunday with a 2-1 loss.
Mississippi State is playing in its third straight CWS.
Through a team spokesperson, Pierce declined to name a starting pitcher for Saturday night. Although he said he was still assessing his options, Lemonis admitted there was "a good chance" that Will Bednar would start for Mississippi State.
Bednar struck out 15 Longhorns in the CWS opener.
Around the bases: Ty Madden struck out eight over a six-inning start. He allowed only one hit after Mississippi State's two-run, three-hit first inning. ... Texas struck first when Zubia went deep with two outs in the first inning. With that solo shot, he became the ninth player to hit 30 homers in a Texas uniform. ... Antico drove in two runs. ... Mississippi State used seven pitchers.