By Steve Parkhurst
AUSTIN, TX - The overall second seed, Texas Longhorns, opened the Austin Regional in their home ballpark, UFCU Disch-Falk Field, against the Southern University Jaguars. What drama there might have been quickly dissipated as the Longhorns hit and pitched their way to an 11-0 shutout behind a solid start by Tristan Stevens, the Longhorns Saturday arm for almost the entire season.
The Longhorns started the scoring in the bottom of the first inning when Zach Zubia (3-for-4) hit a sacrifice fly to right field to score Mike Antico from third base. Moments later, Ivan Melendez hit a home run to left field to make it 2-0.
In the second inning, back-to-back walks and a hit by a pitch loaded the bases for Texas. Mitchell Daly doubled to right-center to clear the bases. Zubia followed with a two-out double through the right side to make it 6-0 Texas.
Silas Ardoin doubled to the opposite field in right-center to drive in two more Longhorns extending the lead to 9-0 in the seventh.
Stevens took his exit after the seventh inning having allowed just four hits while striking out six.
Cam Williams hit his tenth home run of the season in the eighth to complete the scoring for Texas. The Longhorns led 11-0 after the two-run blast.
Palmer Wenzel and Jared Southard each pitched a scoreless inning to complete the shutout that put the Longhorns into the winners bracket.
Texas head coach David Pierce said after the game that getting out to the big early lead was part of the game plan. “Be in attack mode early and make sure that we create the tempo, Pierce said. “And I thought we did a great job of that.” Texas improved to 43-15 on the year with the victory,
The Fairfield Stags and Arizona State Sun Devils squared off in the second game of the day in Austin.
Before the Stags left Connecticut for Texas, they lost their all-everything catcher Mike Caruso. During an intra-squad workout earlier in the week, Caruso bunted a ball that, according to Fairfield head coach Bill Currier, “clipped him in the jaw and broke his jaw in a couple of places.” Caruso did not make the trip to Austin as he awaits surgery.
Caruso was not the only thing missing for the Stags on Friday. Right fielder Mike Handal misplaced his jersey at some point, so he was wearing another number when he stepped into the batter’s box to open up game two. It seemed not to matter as Handal deposited the second pitch of the game over the wall in right field for a 1-0 lead.
Trey McLoughlin took the hill for Fairfield and he took the 1-0 lead into the bottom of the third. As a light rain began to fall, Arizona loaded the bases with no outs. A sacrifice fly to deep left field tied the game at one. Another fly out to left led to an attempted advance to third from second, and Joe Lampe was thrown out by left-fielder Ryan Strollo to end the frame.
A slightly harder rain began to fall in the fourth. The game was delayed for roughly ten minutes while the grounds crew made its way to the pitching mound to apply a drying agent to the mound for better footing and less slipping. The rain stopped shortly after.
The Sun Devils took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth on a run-scoring single by Ethan Long. That was followed two pitches later by a two-run blast to right by Jack Moss to increase the lead to 4-1.
After giving up the leadoff home run to start the game, Tyler Thornton cruised into the sixth inning. With a runner on second and one out, Charlie Pagliarini doubled to the wall in left-center scoring one for Fairfield. One out later, Thornton’s outing was complete and Arizona State went to the bullpen. The Stags proceeded to load the bases and the Sun Devils once again went to the bullpen to end the threat with a 4-2 lead.
After a two-out walk loaded the bases for the Stags in the seventh, a wild pitch scored the runner from third to make it 4-3 Arizona State. A walk loaded the bases again. A third consecutive walk tied the game at four. A fourth straight walk gave Fairfield a 5-4 lead. Arizona State had to go to the bullpen again in the inning before getting a groundout to end the Fairfield threat.
Fairfield added an insurance run in the eighth on a single to right-center by Sean Cullen which brought home Justin Guerrera (4-for-5) from second base.
Sean McClain doubled to left-center to get Arizona State to within a run with one out in the bottom of the eighth. Stags pitcher Michael Sansone stranded two Sun Devils runners on the bases and his team led 6-5 going to the ninth.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Arizona State started a rally. A Lampe single to center was followed by a single into right by pinch-hitter Kai Murphy which moved Lampe to third. A walk loaded the bases. Pinch-hitter Blake Pivaroff was hit by a pitch to tie the game. The pitch was reviewed by the umpiring crew, but not the call was not overturned.
One batter later, McLain dropped a single into shallow right-center to bring home the winner for the Sun Devils with his second RBI of the night. The 7-6 walk-off victory earned Arizona State the right to face Texas in the winners bracket on Saturday night.
“It’s baseball,” Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith said after the win. “Anything can happen. That’s why you play to the last out.”
Asked about an emotional letdown on Saturday after a thrilling Friday night walk-off, McLain said, “It’s going to be a new day tomorrow. We want to show the number two team in the nation we’re here to play and we’re here to stay.”
Coach Pierce announced after Friday’s first game that Ty Madden will get the start for his Longhorns squad Saturday evening. Madden was the Friday night starter for much of the season for Texas and the accolades for the right-hander have been piling up since the regular season ended.
Southern University will face Fairfield at 1pm CT on Saturday in the first elimination game of the weekend. Texas will face Arizona State at 6pm CT.