Behind the strength of Kody Clemens’ power and David Pierce’s faith in his pitching staff, the Longhorn baseball team is back in Omaha at the College World Series. It’s the first appearance since 2014 and a record 36th.
Texas is to college baseball as Notre Dame is to college football or Kentucky is to college basketball. They are a “blue blood” program and make a strong case for the greatest college baseball program of all-time. Maybe that honor goes to Southern California, which has won national championships 12 of the 21 times they’ve been to the CWS — though it’s been 17 years since their last trip to Omaha. Maybe It’s LSU, which has the same amount of national titles as Texas (six) but 18 fewer trips to the CWS.
It’s semantics to argue who’s the best, but Texas has the history to be at the very least one of the two best college baseball programs ever. And why do they hold this distinction?
Here’s a brief recap of every CWS appearance by Texas, this time during the Cliff Gustafson era.
When Bibb Falk retired following the 1967 season, Texas hired an alum, Cliff Gustafson. It’s one of the greatest coaching hires in the history of college athletics — not just baseball.
Gustafson was hired to coach one of the premier college programs without any NCAA coaching experience. He had been the coach at South San Antonio High School for 14 seasons and won state championships in half of his years.
Only twice have major power programs done something similar, Texas with Gustafson and Notre Dame football with Gerry Faust (who was a high school football coach in Ohio before moving to South Bend), and Faust’s tenure isn’t looked kindly upon by Irish fans.
If there was any doubt that Gustafson wasn’t the right coach, he slammed the door shut on that notion when he led Texas to a 23-11 record and to the CWS in year one.
There the Longhorns went 1-2, losing to Oklahoma State and North Carolina State with a win over Brigham Young in between. USC won the title.
Spoiler alert: Gustafson led Texas to 16 more College World Series, won two national titles and was the coach for 28 more years at Texas.
MORE: Texas newcomers stepping up as some CWS-bound Longhorns prepare to continue a family tradition
Texas returned to the CWS and went 2-2, beating eventual champion Arizona State 4-0 but lost to Tulsa and New York sandwiched between a 14-1 win over Mississippi.
After winning their first three games of the 1970 CWS against Delaware, Ohio and Florida State, Texas lost to eventual champion USC in 14 innings, 8-7, and lost 11-2 to Florida State to be eliminated.
That 14-inning marathon against USC may be one of the greatest games in the history of the tournament, and if Texas had won, college baseball history could have been altered. USC went on to win five consecutive national championships, one of the greatest dynasty runs in college athletics.
After a year absence, Texas returned to Omaha and went 2-2. However, once again Texas came close to eliminating USC, pushing the Trojans in a 10-inning elimination game that Texas lost 4-3.
For third time in three trips Texas fell to USC, but 1973 was the first time the game didn’t go into extra innings as USC won 4-1. Texas went 2-2 in the tournament.
Once again Texas faced USC in an elimination game and once again the Trojans won a thriller, 5-3, en route to its fifth straight title. Texas lost to USC to open the tournament 9-2, but battled back with blowout wins over Seton Hall and Oklahoma to get to a rematch.
Texas returned to the top of college baseball in 1975 as Gustafson won his first of two titles at Texas. The Longhorns went 4-1 in Omaha, the only loss coming to Arizona State, 5-2. Texas won a 12-10 game over Seton Hall to reach the championship round against South Carolina.
Against the Gamecocks, Texas dominated winning 17-6 in Game 1 and 5-1 in Game 2 to win the third championship.
Mickey Reichenbach was named Most Outstanding Player for Texas, who also boasted a roster that included Keith Moreland, Jim Gideon, Don Kainer and Rich Wortham. Texas finished the season 59-6 overall.
One of the coolest ironies of this tournament is that Cal State Fullerton, a program that would win four national titles from 1979-2004, made its first appearance. Yes. Augie Garrido’s first trip to the CWS came in the same year of Gustafson’s first title.
Garrido, about 21 years later, would replace Gustafson as Texas’ coach and, spoiler alert, win two national titles at Texas.
After winning their first two games against Connecticut and Mississippi State, Texas lost to Arkansas and Pepperdine to finish the season. Cal State Fullerton won its first title.
It wrapped a decade in which Texas reached the CWS six times.
The Longhorns reached the CWS seven times in the 1980s, won one title and finished runner-up three times.
Texas lost to Arizona State 11-2 to open the tournament but bounced back to win three games in a row, beating Michigan, Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma State 15-8 in 13 innings before losing again to eventual champion Arizona State 12-3.
It looked like Texas was on the road to a title after beating Oklahoma State and Stanford, but a 2-1 loss to Miami (Fla.) turned the tide and Texas lost to Wichita State in its next game. Miami went on to beat the Shockers for the title.
One of the most dominant runs in the history of the CWS.
The 1983 Texas team didn’t lose a game in Omaha and won two extra inning games en route to Gustafson’s second title. Highlighted by some dude named Roger Clemens, Texas overcame a field that included Barry Bonds, playing for Arizona State, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo both playing for Michigan, and even future World Series manager John Farrell, pitching for Oklahoma State.
However, even with two players who are among the best to ever play baseball (Clemens and Bonds) and another baseball Hall of Famer (Larkin), it was Calvin Schiraldi of Texas who was named Most Outstanding Player.
Texas finished the season 66-14 overall.
Texas reached the CWS final and lost to Cal State Fullerton 3-1 in the title game. It was Garrido’s second title. The Longhorns finished 3-2 in Omaha.
Once again Texas reached the finals of the CWS — the third year in a row. Texas lost to Miami (Fla.) in the championship game 10-6 but only after a devastating 2-1 loss in the previous game. Texas opened the tournament with four straight wins over Arizona, Miami, Mississippi and Arkansas in 10 innings.
Texas went 3-2 in Omaha, being eliminated by eventual champion Stanford.
For the third time in the decade Texas was on the cusp of a national title. Wichita State, led by future MLB manager Eric Wedge, finally broke through and won the title. The Shockers beat Texas 5-3 in the title game after Texas had reeled off three straight wins.
Texas went 2-2 before being eliminated by eventual champion Pepperdine, 5-4.
Texas went 1-2 in the tournament, losing to Oklahoma State 7-6.
This was the last CWS appearance by Cliff Gustafson. He finished with 17 trips to Omaha, the most ever by a coach. The second most appearances belong to Rod Dedeaux of USC, who went to 15 (Dedeaux was co-head coach of USC during the program’s 1948 and 1949 appearances).
Texas’ longest drought between appearances would follow — seven years and six seasons — before they would return to Omaha.
CONTINUE: A not so brief history of all of the Longhorns’ 36 trips to the College World Series: Augie Garrido era
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