With the first two days and four games in the books, it is a good time to recap where things stand in the NCAA Austin Regional and preview what lies ahead for the next day or two.
Friday offered little drama in either of the games as Texas stopped Air Force 11-3 and Louisiana Tech defeated Dallas Baptist 12-5.
Texas and Air Force opened this Regional and the two teams combined for fourteen runs, none of which came via the long ball.
Skyler Messinger was 4-for-5 against Air Force and had a one RBI single in the third inning and a two RBI single in the fifth inning to lead the way for the Longhorns. Austin Todd also drove in three runs for Texas, two of which came in the eighth when the game was already put away,
Pete Hansen pitched 6 2/3 innings for the Longhorns and he was never in danger. Hansen improved to 11-1 on the year with the victory.
In the evening game, Louisiana Tech took on Dallas Baptist in their home state and moved into the winner bracket with a 12-5 win.
Dallas Baptist took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning. In the bottom half of the inning, Philip Matilia hit a two-run home run, the first of seven runs the Bulldogs would score before the Patriots scored again. The Patriots made it a 7-4 game in the top of the sixth inning.
Having hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, Jorge Corona batted with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. Corona launched a catchable ball into the sky in center field, but the Dallas Baptist center fielder lost track of the ball as it fell behind him near the wall. The Bulldogs catcher turned on the jets and raced around the bases and made it to home plate easily to complete the rare inside-the-park grand slam and Louisiana Tech led 11-4.
Left-hander Jonathan Fincher pitched five innings for the Bulldogs and improved to 8-2 with the win. Greg Martinez handled the final 3 2/3 innings of work and picked up the same for his effort.
After the Friday win, Louisiana Tech head coach Lane Burroughs was able to properly frame the expectations and the hype for their Saturday with the Longhorns.
"I just told our guys, this is why you play college baseball," Burroughs said. "Texas right now is just like us: trying to get to a Super (Regional), trying to get to Omaha."
Saturday opened with a losers bracket contest between Air Force and Dallas Baptist with both teams facing elimination.
Leading 1-0 in the third inning, Sam Kulasingam hit a solo home run to right field for Air Force. That was followed by a two-run home run by Friday's starting pitcher Paul Skenes (2-for3), all part of a four-run frame as the Falcons took a 5-0 lead.
Doyle Gehring was in control on the mound for Air Force. Gehring tossed seven innings and allowed just three hits while striking out seven batters.
The only run for Dallas Baptist came in the seventh inning on a Luke Heefner sacrifice fly, otherwise the Patriots offense had no answers for Air Force pitching.
CJ Dornak handled the final two innings in relief of Gehring and did not allow a hit or a run as he retired all six batters he faced. Dallas Baptist became the first team eliminated from the Austin Regional with the 5-1 loss.
Saturday's evening matchup between Louisiana Tech and Texas was a close battle most of the way, with the Longhorns prevailing late to remain undefeated in their home Regional.
Dylan Campbell hit a home run in the bottom of the second to give Texas the early 1-0 lead.
Texas starter Lucas Gordon took the game into the sixth inning before giving way to Tristan Steven in his relatively new role out of the bullpen for the Longhorns.
The game was tied at one going into the bottom of the seventh inning when Texas got to the Bulldogs bullpen for five consecutive singles before a double by Messinger made it six straight hits. Texas scored three runs in the inning to take a late 4-1 lead.
The two teams exchanged runs in the eighth inning but Stevens closed out the 5-2 victory in the ninth inning. Stevens struck out five Bulldogs of the eleven outs he recorded.
After the game, Stevens was emotional about his effort and about his team.
“To be able to get those final three outs and get our team one game closer to Omaha,” Stevens said, “it means the world to me.”
Texas head coach David Pierce likes where his team is as he looked ahead to Sunday night, but he knows Air Force and Louisiana Tech have to settle matters first on Sunday.
“It wouldn’t bother me if they stay out here for about eighteen innings and then we play at seven,” Pierce said after the win.
Louisiana Tech will face Air Force at 1 PM CT on Sunday, both teams face elimination with a loss. The winner returns at 7 PM Sunday to face Texas. The Longhorns need one win over the next two games to advance to their second straight Super Regional.