OMAHA, Neb. — "Your season can be made in a split second and it can be broken in a split second."
Texas center fielder Mike Antico's postgame comment described Saturday's 4-3 loss to Mississippi State perfectly. A walk-off single by the Bulldog shortstop Tanner Leggett ended the Longhorns' time at the College World Series, and with it, their season.
Texas had the offense and pitching early, but in a split second, it was Mississippi State's bench charging on to the field, while the Horns looked away in dismay.
The Longhorns, who were outhit 11-4, end their season with a 50-17 record, while Mississippi State (48-17) moves on to the College World Series final, beginning Monday, against Vanderbilt.
As they were in Friday's meeting with Mississippi State, the Longhorns were the first on the board Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead in the second inning.
Designated hitter Ivan Melendez walked to open the frame and moved to second on a sacrifice groundout by second baseman Mitchell Daly. Third baseman Cam Williams, who had not hit a home run since the second game of the Austin Super Regional, drove an 0-2 pitch to deep right field for a two-run, momentum-gaining homer.
The Bulldogs countered with a run of their own in the bottom of the third, slicing the Texas lead in half, as right fielder Tanner Allen brought designated hitter Kellum Clark across the plate on a base hit.
Texas starter Tristan Stevens had issues limiting hits from the onset, as he gave up a hit in five of the six innings he pitched. He pitched five innings, allowing nine hits, three earned runs and a walk while striking out two.
Stevens' command began to unravel in the sixth. Facing three batters, he did not record an out in the inning, surrendered two hits and walk, and gave up a run. Cole Quintanilla was then summonded from the bullpen, with the score knotted at 3-3, with runners on second and third and no outs. In a remarkable defensive stand from Texas, the Horns managed to close out the inning without any further damage, although Quintanilla made the situation slightly more interesting by walking the first batter he faced. With the bases loaded, Williams tallied a run-saving out, fielding a sharp ground ball and firing it home to record the force out. Quintanilla handled the next two batters on his own, striking out both Clark and pinch hitter Josh Hatcher. His strikeout of Clark was reviewed with more than a few boos and frustrated yells from the Mississippi State crowd, but home plate umpire Billy Van Raaphorst called strike three on a low pitch in the zone.
But Quintanilla was unable to hold off the Mississippi State bats for the entirety of the contest. UT's hitting cooled off dramatically — the Horns posted just one hit over the final four innings — and the Bulldogs were left with a walk-off opportunity in the ninth, the score still tied, 3-3.
Quintanilla struck out left fielder Brad Cumbest to open the inning, but it went downhill quickly from there. Clark was hit by a pitch, and speedy Brayland Skinner was called in as a pinch runner. He stole second, sliding headfirst to avoid the tag, and then sprinted home one pitch later on a walk-off single from Leggett, a defensive replacement. A .225 hitter entering the at-bat, Leggett was brought in to the game at shortstop for his fine fielding skills. But he took a breaking ball from Quintanilla over shortstop Trey Faltine's head to bring the winning run home.
"(Quintanilla) hung one up and I put a good swing on it," Leggett said postgame. "Wasn't a bad pitch, though. It was a good pitch. I was just locked in."
The wide gamut of emotions was evident on the field in the moments that followed: jubilation from the squad in maroon and white, heartbreak in the eyes of those donning the burnt orange and white, especially in the eyes of first baseman Zach Zubia, who played his final game in a Texas uniform, and was the last Longhorn to leave the dugout following the loss.
After the game, Texas head coach David Pierce praised the fight in his team, which played Saturday's game after back-to-back games that had stretched beyond midnight.
"The only thing that I'm disappointed in is this team will no longer be this team anymore," Pierce said. "It's the most incredible team I've ever been a part of, and I've won a national championship and been (to Omaha) six times."
Williams, who also had the game's only home run, ended with half of the Longhorns' four hits. Antico and right fielder Douglas Hodo III each had a double for the Longhorns' other two hits.