A matchup between the two teams in the middle of the national seeding played out evenly over three games as No. 9 seed Texas bested No. 8 seed East Carolina to advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
The Texas postseason magic seemed to be present in Greenville on Friday as the Longhorns took a 2-0 lead over the Pirates in the top of the first inning when Murphy Stehly hit a two-out home run to left field.
With left-hander Pete Hansen on the mound for Texas, the Pirates answered right back in the bottom of the first inning with three runs of their own to take a 3-2 lead. The Longhorns never led again in the game.
Jacob Starling and Bryson Worrell both homered as East Carolina built up a 7-2 advantage. Hansen left after four innings having allowed five runs.
In the top of the sixth inning, Ivan Melendez hit a tape measure home run about 475 feet, his 31st of the season. Stehly followed with his second home run of the game, but Texas still trailed 7-4.
Having cut the deficit to just one run in the top of the eighth inning, East Carolina got to the Longhorns bullpen for five runs in the bottom of the eighth to take the 13-7 advantage, which stood up as the final score.
The Pirates scored thirteen runs and collected fifteen base hits in the game against seven different Texas pitchers.
East Carolina head coach Cliff Godwin was happy with the crowd that packed Clark-LeClair Stadium for his team, but he was also pleased with his team’s fight throughout the Friday battle with Texas.
“Great college baseball game, just back and forth,” Godwin said. “Texas offensively is probably the best offense we’ve faced all year.” Godwin added, “I’m just glad we’re playing at home.”
Saturday’s second game looked to be a repeat of Friday’s opener in the early stages as Texas took a 2-0 lead in the first inning.
Three RBI from Worrell, including a two-run home run, and a three-run blast from Jacob Jenkins-Cowart gave the Pirates a 6-2 lead in the fifth inning.
Trailing 7-2 in the seventh inning, Douglas Hodo III hit a two-run home run for the Longhorns to get his team within reach of the Pirates.
Skyler Messinger hit a three-run home run to tie the game at seven in the eighth inning. That was followed by a Dylan Campbell solo shot to give Texas a one-run lead going to the ninth inning.
Jacob Starling tied the game at eight with a two-out home run in the top of the ninth for the Pirates.
Tied at eight in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Longhorns loaded the bases. With two outs in the frame, Campbell drove a ball the opposite way, it bounced off the right field wall allowing Melendez to cross the plate to score the winning run as the Longhorns walked it off and evened the series with a 9-8 victory.
After the game, Campbell talked about staying with his approach despite struggles over the first seven innings of the game to eventually give his team two big at-bats.
“That’s just staying locked in,” Campbell said. “I had a pretty bad day at the plate before that at-bat. I kept telling myself ‘I’m going to get another chance here’, and I ended up getting a couple more chances.”
Both teams entered Sunday play with records of 46-20, a fitting measure for the two teams in the middle of the national bracket.
After a rain delay pushed the start of the game back one hour, an infield single, a stolen base, and a walk preceded Melendez’s 32nd home run of the season and Texas led 3-0 before an out had been recorded.
With Texas leading 4-0 in the top of the first inning, weather once again put a halt to play, this time for roughly five hours. Once play resumed, East Carolina finished getting three outs on the Longhorns so they could get their first turn at the plate.
The Pirates got their only run of the game in the bottom of the first inning against starter Tristan Stevens, making his first start since April 30.
As East Carolina went through arms looking for one that could record some outs, Stevens was in control for the Longhorns through six innings, surrendering just the one run in the first inning.
“I didn’t need a lot to get going tonight with what was at stake, this is what I wanted. This is exactly why I came back.” -Tristan Stevens, Texas RHP
Texas continued to slowly add runs. A Trey Faltine solo home run in the top of the fifth inning pushed the Longhorns lead to 10-1.
East Carolina had no answers. Just past 1:30am local time, Texas, behind a perfect inning from Jared Southard, closed out the 11-1 rout and clinched another appearance in Omaha.
Stevens returned to Texas for this season, for just such an opportunity as he got on Sunday. And despite having pitched in both of the previous games, he was ready for Sunday night.
“I didn’t need a lot to get going tonight with what was at stake, this is what I wanted,” Stevens said.
“This is exactly why I came back.”
“This” is a return trip to Omaha for Stevens and his Texas teammates to attempt to finish what they fell short of accomplishing in 2021.