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Notre Dame eases past Texas, pushing Longhorns to the brink of CWS elimination

Danny Davis
Austin American-Statesman
Texas catcher Silas Ardoin tags Notre Dame's Jack Brannigan in the fourth inning of Friday's College World Series opener, but a video review led to a reversal of the out call. Notre Dame went on to a 7-3 win.

OMAHA, Neb. — Once again, Texas has some work to do if it wants to extend its stay in Omaha.

The Longhorns were bested by Notre Dame 7-3 in their College World Series opener Friday night at Charles Schwab Field. The loss moved them into an elimination game Sunday against old rival Texas A&M.

Texas lost its first game of the CWS last year, too, but recovered and remained in Omaha until it fell one win short of the championship series.

"We can't think big picture," UT pitcher Tristan Stevens said. "We can't be looking three games ahead, two games ahead. Our next target now is A&M. We just go from there and take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time."

Entering Friday, Texas had hit 128 home runs. That ranked third nationally. Notre Dame had gone deep 75 times. 

But the start of Friday's game was dictated by two bunts.

Texas coach David Pierce and Notre Dame's Link Jarrett greet each other before Friday's College World Series opener in Omaha, Neb. The Longhorns lost 7-3, forcing them into the losers' bracket and a Sunday elimination game against Texas A&M.

Both teams scored on those bunts. In the bottom of the third inning, Texas used Eric Kennedy's sacrifice bunt to score Dylan Campbell from third base. But on the play, Notre Dame pitcher John Michael Bertrand fielded the baseball and tried to cut Trey Faltine down at second instead of simply retiring Kennedy. 

Bertrand got Faltine out. In the next at-bat, Ivan Melendez singled — which probably would have led to a 2-2 tie had Faltine been on second. Instead, Texas had runners on the corners and Bertrand struck out UT cleanup hitter Murphy Stehly to end the threat.

"I know that I can attack the ball really well, and I get to the ball quickly," Bertrand said. "And being able to get that lead guy ended up saving a run later, which was nice. But it's just kind of trusting that my guys are going to be there and trusting the athleticism to get off the mound and get to the ball quickly and make a decision."

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In the top of the fourth, Jack Brannigan scored for Notre Dame on a bunt by Spencer Myers. Brannigan was called out after Texas pitcher Pete Hansen flipped the ball to catcher Silas Ardoin, but the ruling was challenged and overturned.

After that review, Notre Dame held a 3-1 lead.

"The one at the plate, to me it looked very difficult to overturn," Texas coach David Pierce said. "Just couldn't see where they had enough or conclusive evidence to actually change the call. But evidently they did."

More:Texas wins its fifth Dick Howser Trophy as Ivan Melendez is honored as college baseball's best

Throw those bunts out, and Notre Dame still would have tallied runs on two solo homers, two singles, a groundout and a balk. Texas manufactured its only other runs on a wild pitch and Douglas Hodo III's fifth-inning single.

Three Notre Dame pitchers limited Texas to six hits. The Longhorns are now 3-10 in games in which they have six hits or fewer.

Over a start that lasted 5⅓ innings and 96 pitches, Bertrand gave up six hits and three runs. He struck out four batters and issued one walk. The sixth-year left-hander was coming off a start in the super regionals in which he allowed three homers to Tennessee.

"We just couldn't really figure him out," UT outfielder Dylan Campbell said.

UT starting pitcher Pete Hansen gave up nine hits and six runs before he was pulled with one out in the fifth inning. Coach David Pierce speculated that the All-Big 12 honoree might be feeling fatigue.

Like Bertrand, Hansen was attempting to bounce back from a shaky start. Last weekend at East Carolina, he didn't pitch into the fifth inning. On Friday, the All-Big 12 honoree was tagged for nine hits and six runs before Pierce pulled him with one out in the fifth.

"He's frustrated about it," Pierce said. "But on the back end of the season, I'm sure he could be a little tired, fatigued. He's not going to go there and use that as an excuse. He just hasn't been as sharp, and I can't pinpoint why."

Last season, Hansen pitched twice in Omaha. In those games against Mississippi State and Virginia, he allowed six hits and two runs over 7⅔ innings.

Key play: When Stevens relieved Hansen in the fifth, Texas was trailing 4-1 and Notre Dame had runners on first and third. Before he even attempted a pitch, Stevens stepped off the mound and made a move to third base. He never threw the ball, though, and a run-scoring balk was called.

Stevens said afterward that the balk was due to a miscommunication between the pitcher and third baseman Skyler Messinger.

Notable number: 0. None of UT's six hits went for extra bases. Dating back to last season, Texas had produced at least one extra-base hit in 109 straight games.

Up next: Texas (47-21) and Texas A&M (42-19) will meet at 1 p.m. Sunday. On March 29, UT was beaten 12-9 by the Aggies in Austin.

Notre Dame (41-15) and Oklahoma (43-22) will meet in the winners' bracket Sunday night. Oklahoma got its trip to Omaha started with a 13-8 win over Texas A&M on Friday.