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CWS notebook: Texas baseball keeps goin' forward as Longhorns prepare for Notre Dame

Kirk Bohls Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman

David Pierce usually wears his emotions on his sleeve, but they're also on his chest nowadays.

At the send-off for the team Wednesday morning, the Texas baseball coach proudly wore a T-shirt proclaiming, “Keep Goin',” playing on a motto his Longhorns adopted during the season that has taken them to the College World Series for the 38th time and his third in six years.

Texas punched its repeat trip to Omaha by drubbing East Carolina 11-1 in Greenville, N.C., in a Sunday night game that had two rain delays. The Longhorns won the super regional after dropping the first game.

“I don’t know who came up with it, but I like it,” Pierce said of the rallying cry. “I just got the T-shirt. The players started saying it in the dugout during the year, and Carli (Todd, director of player development) kind of picked up on it. And that’s all we’ve done.”

Longhorns shortstop Trey Faltine, a vocal team leader, was one of the players behind the motto.

More: Texas wins second straight Directors Cup as nation's top overall sports program

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Since getting swept at home by Oklahoma State, the Longhorns have rattled off 16 wins in their last 20 games, including five wins in six games in the NCAA postseason. Their four losses since that Big 12 series have come against East Carolina, which had been one of the hottest teams in the country; CWS qualifier and Big 12 Tournament champion Oklahoma; Oklahoma State in the league tournament (although Texas beat the Cowboys twice there in Arlington); and the series finale at West Virginia.

“Stats. All-conference. Preseason All-American. None of that stuff matters,” Pierce said. “That’s the beauty of this team. They just play to win the game.

Another award for Texas baseball's Ivan Melendez

Another day, another national award for Ivan Melendez.

The Texas first baseman, who was named a first-team All-American on Wednesday, won the Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award on Thursday and is the favorite to win the prestigious Dick Howser Trophy on Friday as college baseball's best player.

The Bobby Bragan slugger award is based on performance at the plate, academics and personal integrity. Melendez leads the nation with 32 home runs and is hitting .396 entering the College World Series. 

Past winners of the award, first given in 2017, have been Texas Tech's Hunter Hargrove (2017), Dallas Baptist's Devlin Granberg (2018), Texas Tech's Josh Jung (2019) and East Carolina's Connor Norby (2021). There was no award in 2020 because of the pandemic.

CWS experience should help Texas Longhorns 

While seven Longhorns saw action in last year’s CWS, including six in the starting lineup, they had varying degrees of success in Omaha before falling to eventual national champion Mississippi State.

Melendez, then a junior designated hitter, had a .294 batting average in the five games with a homer and five RBIs.

On the other side of the ledger, Faltine struggled, collecting just one hit in 15 at-bats for an .067 average, though he’s been red-hot this postseason. So, too, has catcher Silas Ardoin atoned for a poor CWS average last season when he hit just .118 with two hits in 17 plate appearances.

Among the other Longhorns who played in Omaha were second baseman Mitchell Daly (.250) and outfielders Eric Kennedy (.235) and Douglas Hodo III (.188).

Of the six pitchers who made it to the mound last year at now Charles Schwab Stadium, three are back. Pete Hansen, the likely starter against Notre Dame on Friday, had a no-decision in his two appearances with a 2.35 ERA. Tristan Stevens, Texas’ No. 2 starter last year and a valuable swingman this season, was 0-0 with a 7.56 ERA, and closer Aaron Nixon, who rarely pitches now, was 1-0 with a save.

Notre Dame a tough opponent for Texas baseball in CWS

The Irish are the only team to win four super regional games against No. 1 national seeds to advance to the CWS. They beat top-seeded Tennessee in a three-game series in Knoxville this year and knocked out No. 1 Florida State to reach the CWS in 2002. ... Their .739 winning percentage since 2020 is second-best in Division I. ... Notre Dame pitcher Jack Findlay, who had been the Irish's No. 3 starter this year, has posted a nation-leading three saves in the NCAA postseason.

Stat of the day: Of the eight teams making up the CWS field, only two are returnees from 2021 — Texas and Stanford.

Quote of the day: “I told Chris we could swing by and pick them up on the way to Omaha. We could kind of Uber together.” — Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle, who said his former TCU boss Chris Del Conte Facetimed him after both teams clinched CWS berths.

Oddity: Ole Miss and A&M are the only two teams to stay perfect in the NCAA postseason with 5-0 records, but the Rebels were the last team picked for the 64-team NCAA field, edging out North Carolina State, a Final Four team last year.