By Steve Parkhurst
AUSTIN, TX - After a Friday night finale that ended with a thrilling walk-off victory by Arizona State over Fairfield, the rest of the weekend in the NCAA Austin Regional was much less dramatic with a minimal number of surprises throughout.
Elimination Saturday featured Fairfield, having to make a quick turnaround after the late Friday night finish, and the Southern Jaguars, who had been shutout 11-0 at the hands of Texas. After the start of the game was delayed over three hours due to weather, Fairfield got a solid start from right-hander Jake Noviello and eliminated Southern 6-2.
Fairfield coach Bill Currier was out of town for Saturday’s game having traveled northeast after Friday’s game to attend his son’s wedding in Vermont on Saturday. Assistant Coach Brian Fay guided the Stags to their first postseason win in the program’s history.
Texas then handed Arizona State their first loss of the Regional in a drama-free, 10-3 win with right-hander Ty Madden on the mound. Offensively for the Longhorns, Zach Zubia delivered the crushing blow when he hit a two-run home run off the batter’s eye in the fourth inning to give Texas a 5-0 lead.
Sunday afternoon staged a rematch between Arizona State and Fairfield, this time with Head Coach Bill Currier back in the fold having arrived at the Austin airport just over three hours before game time. The Sun Devils got out to a 5-0 lead before the Stags started to chip away at the deficit, eventually tying the game.
One of the most bizarre plays a person might ever see took place in the top of the sixth inning.
With Arizona State runners on second and third, a pitch by Eli Oliphant got behind his catcher, and for a moment, no one knew where the ball had gone. It found a temporary resting place in the front shirt pocket of the home plate umpire. The umpire subsequently ruled, correctly, that each player could move up a base. The runner on third crossed home plate and the Sun Devils took a 7-6 lead.
A three-run blast by Justin Guerrera in the bottom half of the sixth gave Fairfield a 9-7 lead that they held on to as the Stags bullpen allowed the Sun Devils nothing the rest of the way.
Fairfield had to hang out for a few hours to face Texas on Sunday evening in the first of two potential games for the regional final.
Fairfield started Jack Erbeck who had not pitched in 2021. Texas countered with lefty Pete Hansen and his 1.88 ERA in 2021.
Predictably, Erbeck’s control was off, and after four walks and trailing 1-0 in the first inning, Currier went to the bullpen after 28 pitches. The move worked for the moment as the inning came to an end.
However, Texas added four runs in the second inning and five runs in the third inning and led 10-0 as Fairfield’s lack of fresh arms was evident.
Fairfield got two runs of their own in the third inning courtesy of back-to-back one-out doubles and a throwing error at third base.
A trio of Texas relievers put the Stags away 12-2 to advance to the Super Regional round.
Texas did not have as powerful an offensive night as the final score might lead one to believe. Aside from a big blow by Douglas Hodo III when he tripled to clear the bases, the Longhorns took advantage of eleven walks. Texas only out-hit the Stags nine to six and Hodo’s triple was the only extra-base hit for the Longhorns.
“We bounced back great from the Big 12 Tournament, and we did what we needed to do,” said Mike Antico after he went 2-for-2 with three walks on Sunday. “We could taste that Super.”
“That was a dominating performance,” said Texas Head Coach of Hansen’s outing. “Kid’s never pitched in a postseason game, Covid-freshman, goes out and just dominates.”
“They just ran out of pitching, I can tell you that for sure,” Pierce said of Fairfield.
All told, Texas outscored it opponents 33-5 over the weekend.
Asked if there is any such thing as a regional being too easy, Hansen replied, “There’s no such thing.”
Texas (45-15) moves on to host a Super Regional next weekend against South Florida. Fairfield (39-5) saw its season come to an end after a run that surprised much of the baseball world.