By Steve Parkhurst
AUSTIN - For everything that Saturday night was in the NCAA Super Regional in Austin, Sunday night was the opposite as the only constant was the Texas Longhorns defeating the South Florida Bulls in both games to advance to the College World Series in Omaha.
Saturday saw a classic matchup of aces as Ty Madden of Texas faced Jack Jasiak of South Florida.
What developed was a low-scoring affair that was decided in the final at-bat, and neither starter factored into the final decision.
In the second inning, Mike Antico powered a ball to the opposite field which bounced off the wall in left-center to push the Texas lead to 2-0. That was the last run for several innings as the aces worked their plans to perfection.
Still 2-0 in the seventh, Madden got two outs, but he issued a walk to put the tying run on first base, Texas head coach David Pierce went to the bullpen in favor of Tanner Witt. Witt struck out Nick Gonzalez on three pitches.
Trey Faltine led off the seventh with a double to left-center. Faltine moved up to third on a sacrifice fly by Silas Ardoin. Eric Kennedy hit a sacrifice fly to center field to plate Faltine and Texas led 3-0.
Witt tossed a scoreless eighth and went back out for the ninth. “We liked the matchup, we liked where his pitch count was,” said Pierce.
Cantu hit a blast to left-center to lead off the ninth against Witt. A two-out double by Eaton brought the tying run to the plate in Drew Brutcher. The Texas bullpen moved into action. Brutcher unloaded on a ball to send it well over the wall in right field to tie the game. It was Brutcher’s first home run since March 16.
In the Longhorns half of the ninth, with two outs and Ardoin on first base as the result of an error by the shortstop, Kennedy drove a ball to center that took one hop to hit the wall, Ardoin raced home from first to give Texas the walk-off win 4-3.
“We never had a doubt,” said Madden of his team after losing the lead in the top of the ninth. “There wasn’t a split second where I think anyone in that dugout thought we were going to lose that game.”
“I mean, that’s playoff baseball right there,” said Pierce. “I’m ready to play again tomorrow. We can do it right now. I’m just pumped up for our team.”
Sunday’s matchup of right-handers Tristan Stevens and Collin Sullivan had a lot on the line for both Texas and South Florida.
After Texas was retired in the first inning, South Florida loaded the bases with two outs on a four-pitch walk. Eaton laced an 0-2 fastball into left-center to score two Bulls for their first lead of the weekend. It was also the first time the Longhorns trailed in the postseason.
Texas only trailed for half an inning.
Batting in the top half of the second, two batters reached base with no outs. Faltine doubled to bring in a run and put runners at second and third. Then Douglas Hodo III lifted a ball into right. As two Bulls defenders converged to catch the shallow pop-up, the pair collided, and the ball fell to the ground and rolled into foul territory. Ardoin then doubled to bring in another Longhorn run, and a fielder’s choice plated a fourth run. A two-out walk ended the night for Sullivan after recording just five outs as South Florida went to the bullpen.
Hansen had a 4-2 lead to work with going into the bottom of the inning.
Pena hit a one-out RBI single to right in the fourth to get within 6-3 and put runners on the corners. The Bulls ran into an out with a bunt back to the pitcher before a strike out from Hansen ended the inning.
After another call to the bullpen for the Bulls, two bases loaded walks in the fifth pushed Texas’ lead to 8-3.
A run-scoring double by Matt Ruiz with no outs in the sixth made it 8-4. Stevens was relieved with two outs by Cole Quintanilla. It was the last run South Florida scored on Sunday, but Texas was not finished.
Peyton Powell picked up a pinch-hit single into center in the seventh to score Antico from third. After Powell stole second base, Cam Williams homered to center field with two outs and the Longhorns led 11-4. It was the first, and only, home run of the Super Regional for Texas.
Aaron Nixon took the mound for the ninth. Brutcher’s Saturday night heroics did not repeat on Sunday night as his ninth inning at-bat resulted in an innocent fly ball to left field. Nixon retired the three batters he faced to secure the 12-4 victory.
“Yesterday was more of a pitching and defense kind of day. Today our offense stepped up to the plate and delivered,” said Stevens. “Look where we’re at now.”
Pierce spoke emotionally after the Sunday clincher of the hard work and dedication of his team, both the players and the coaches.
“To now have an opportunity to go compete for a national championship is pretty special,” said Pierce.
Texas (47-15) heads to the College World Series to make their 37th appearance, the most of any school in the history of the series. South Florida (31-30) begins their offseason after an impressive postseason run that included a conference championship win and a Regional win in Gainesville.