Bohls: The sting of CWS loss to dreaded Aggies should not put a damper on Texas' big year
- Texas failed to hit or pitch well and was eliminated in two straight losses to Notre Dame and A&M.
- Lucas Gordon and Pete Hansen finished with an ugly collective 15.00 ERA.
- "To be honest," Texas coach David Pierce said, "I'm a little numb right now."
OMAHA, Neb. — The Texas baseball team saved the worst for last.
And apparently it had saved up a lot.
But before Sunday's crushing 10-2 loss to blood rival Texas A&M at Charles Schwab Field eliminated them from the College Word Series, the Longhorns had a whole lot of good.
Except for the abrupt ending and a mild midseason slump, there wasn’t much bad about this 47-22 year, which included a spectacular turnaround the last two months and ended here for a record-extending 38th time.
Pretty much everything turned to mush in the sad finale when Texas forgot how to hit and pitch in a game of misplays and misfortune. The Aggies scored runs on a bases-loaded walk, a throwing error on a ball that ended up in the dugout to bring a runner home from first base, and late in the game on a delayed double steal.
And when the incomparable Ivan Melendez was rung up on a very iffy called strike that looked low with the bases loaded in the sixth, the handwriting was on a very disappointing wall.
Texas just couldn’t grab or sustain any small momentum in its two CWS losses, leading Sunday for only an inning and a half before A&M put up four runs in the second. And the nation’s best defense suffered through some rare lapses as well with two errors and another bizarre misplay or two that led to runs.
Texas fans couldn’t blame this loss on the bullpen — a liability all season — since Lucas Gordon couldn’t command his inside fastball and suffered through his shortest start after a brilliant regular season. He lasted only 1⅔ innings. That was par for the course here since neither he nor ace Pete Hansen was anywhere close to form.
"It sucks," a brutally honest Gordon said. "I just didn't get ahead of the batters and didn't put 'em away. It's definitely cool (to make it here), but you're never really satisfied with anything."
Between Texas’ two best pitchers, they combined to throw just six CWS innings here, allowing 13 hits and 10 runs, all of them earned. That spelled a disastrous 15.00 ERA for the two of them.
Couple that with subpar performances from the team’s two offensive stars, Melendez and Murphy Stehly — neither of whom drove in a run in Omaha — and it was 0-2 for Texas.
"Lucas is a warrior," catcher Silas Ardoin said. "Without him, we wouldn't even be here."
The guess here is Texas pitchers were worn down.
The fly ball-devouring ball park played too big for a team used to hitting balls out of stadiums. The opponents were too good since Notre Dame upset No. 1 Tennessee on the road and A&M won the SEC West, the same division that sent four teams to the CWS.
“The Aggies were better than us today,” Texas coach David Pierce acknowledged. “It’s been an incredible run, and it’s over.”
First and foremost, however, the blame lies with an offense that manufactured only five runs in two games. That won’t work in college baseball these days. The Longhorns flat out could not buy a clutch hit. Or even rent one. After collecting 11, 11, 13, 13, 11 and 11 hits in their last six postseason games, they managed only six and seven up here.
On Sunday, they stranded 12 baserunners and had just two hits in 14 chances with men in scoring position, totaling three hits in 19 at-bats in such situations at the CWS. Douglas Hodo III had two of those hits and looked the best of any Longhorn at the plate.
Melendez, the unquestionable national player of the year and winner of the Dick Howser Trophy and Bobby Bragan awards and some that haven’t even been announced yet, had one hit in seven CWS at-bats and his partner in crime against pitchers, Stehly, went 1-for-8. Skyler Messinger also struggled with one hit in nine at-bats.
“We had a good approach, the same approach we had all year,” Stehly said.
But none of the results.
Absolutely nothing went right.
“To be honest with you, I’m a little numb right now,” Pierce said. “A lot of emotions, lot of thoughts about ending the season with some incredible young men who gave their heart and soul to the program.”
The fact that its trip ended so soon with two quick defeats to two very strong teams certainly will sting, although Longhorn Nation can salve that wound with the knowledge that Texas has 88 total CWS victories and the Aggies just now scored their third ever here, only their second since 1951.
Hey, we get it. A&M has clear 2022 bragging rights.
But Texas operates on an entirely different standard than 99% of the other programs. And getting here is never enough. Still, I’d give this UT season an A-minus, considering the injuries and pitching woes.
“We all had the same goal to dogpile at the end,” said sixth-year Austin Todd, who acquitted himself well with three of Texas’ seven hits versus the Aggies. “They made some pitches, and we just didn’t get the big hits.”
It’s quite shocking that a burnt orange team that began as the No. 1 team in the country and mashed a school record-shattering 128 home runs produced just one extra-base hit in two games, that Hodo's RBI double Sunday.
Micah Dallas, the Aggies right-hander who transferred from Texas Tech, was highly effective. He escaped several dangerous situations and limited Texas to one earned run in five innings before Jacob Palisch came on with almost three shutout innings and delivered the knockout blow with that called third strike against Melendez.
And now the Horns are going home after a loss to the Aggies.
“It's a lot of fun,” Dallas said about the rivalry. “We respect them. They’re a great ball club. But there is a little extra oomph behind everything, especially when it's Texas, because you just look at the fan bases, there's a lot of like genuine hate between each other.”
Texas' season transformed itself in May and finished in Omaha for the third time in four full seasons, and this group provided a strong base for 2023 even though the nucleus of this team will probably leave through graduation or next month's draft.
Still, the last few years should be very consoling for a Pierce team that roared into these city limits on the strength of a clean sweep in a home regional and a pulsating, come-from-behind series victory in the super regional over a hot East Carolina team.
It’s a shame the terrible combination of ineffective pitching and poor clutch hitting doomed Texas to a two-and-'que for only the sixth time in the school’s history but the second time on Pierce’s watch. Next year’s team could well be a major rebuild, especially in the infield that will largely be vacated.
But players like Gordon and Dylan Campbell and young arms will need to step up. As will that bullpen.
Savoring this season might not feel very appropriate in the moment, but Texas was highly successful and finished as one of the best teams in the nation. Just not the best.