3 Storylines to watch as baseball battles Tennessee in elimination game
OMAHA, Neb. — After a tough 2-1 loss to Mississippi State in its 2021 College World Series opener, the No. 2 Texas baseball team faces a win-or-go home situation Tuesday afternoon in an elimination game against Tennessee at TD Ameritrade Park. The game is set for 1 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.
Tennessee, a Southeastern Conference powerhouse, is 50-17 this season, but lost Sunday to Virginia, 6-0. The Volunteers have won both previous meetings against the Longhorns.
The way the Longhorns see it, their time in Omaha is far from over.
"I still believe in this team and I think everyone does," pitcher Ty Madden said following the loss to Mississippi State, "and we're not done yet."
Pitching matchup: Tristan Stevens vs. Blade Tidwell
The starting pitching matchup, especially in an elimination game like this one, plays a key role in the first several innings of a contest. The Longhorns and Vols are turning to their Saturday starters in the hopes of keeping their seasons alive.
Taking the mound for Texas will be Tristan Stevens, the right-hander who at times has looked better than Friday night starter Ty Madden. A strike-thrower with excellent control, Stevens leads the Big 12 with 11 wins, has an earned run average of 2.97 and has walked just 19 batters this season through 103 innings of work. Stevens is difficult to hit, but his ability to limit walks makes it frustrating for opponents to wait for free passes to generate offense.
But on the same token, UT's bats will need to come ready. Tennessee is throwing Blade Tidwell, who enters the game with a 10-3 record and a 3.57 ERA. The true freshman has looked confident in his two NCAA Tournament starts, picking up wins over Liberty and LSU. In the Super Regional against LSU, Tidwell went seven innings, but had trouble keeping the Tiger offense at bay, allowing six earned runs on seven hits.
Watch for Hansen out of the bullpen
In an elimination game, Texas head coach David Pierce will be ready to use all available options, including Sunday starter Pete Hansen.
“I don’t think you can sit back when you have spacing in this type of tournament, and not utilize one of your best guys," Pierce said Wednesday when asked about Hansen, "especially since he’s left handed."
Since taking over May 9 as the Sunday starter against No. 3 TCU, Hansen has been dominant. He has a 9-1 record this season, a Big 12-leading 1.79 ERA and 74 strikeouts through 85.1 innings.
Offenses need to rebound
It was a rough opener in Omaha for hitters on both teams, as the Longhorns were held to just one run and the Volunteers were shut out by the Cavaliers.
Pitching will only get these two teams so far. The offenses will need to take advantage of the few windows of scoring opportunity, and try to get back to the rhythm that was evident in both lineups before reaching the College World Series.
Tennessee's offense is led by shortstop Liam Spence, who leads the team in batting average at .335 on the year. Designated hitter Pete Derkay was the only Volunteer to pick up two hits against UVA; second baseman Max Ferguson, third baseman Jake Rucker, center fielder Drew Gilbert and catcher Connor Pavolny had one each.
Designated hitter Ivan Melendez provides the bulk of the power in the Texas lineup. He went 1-for-4 against Mississippi State and has a team-best 12 homers on the year. Mitchell Daly leads a stacked Texas lineup with a .320 batting average.