By Christian Corona
Baseball often doesn’t work out the way it should.
Nathan Thornhill was lights out last Saturday in Texas’ College World Series opener, not allowing multiple baserunners in any of the first seven innings – none of which UC-Irvine scored in.
But an RBI triple by the Anteaters’ leadoff man tied the game at 1, and Thornhill’s day was done. John Curtiss could not extinguish UC-Irvine’s rally and the Longhorns quickly fell to the CWS loser’s bracket after the 3-1 defeat. Thornhill, despite delivering one of his best outings in what has been a spectacular season, took the loss.
Yet with Thornhill inconsistent and unable to get out of either of the first four innings of Friday’s elimination game against Vanderbilt quickly, he picked up his first career win at Omaha. Thornhill was magnificent, particularly over his final four innings, allowing just six hits over eight shutout innings in the Longhorns’ 4-0 win over the Commodores.
Better to be lucky than good?
The Longhorns were certainly lucky in the first frame against the Commodores.
Vanderbilt starter Tyler Ferguson hit Brooks Marlow with his first pitch, walked Ben Johnson on four pitches and plunked Mark Payton to load the bases before Vanderbilt recorded an out in the first inning. After Tres Barrera struck out looking, C.J Hinojosa hit what initially seemed like a rally-killing, inning-ending double play ball.
But the ball hit the umpire before it could get to Commodores second baseman Dansby Swanson. It was called a dead ball and everyone was safe, including Hinojosa. Marlow scored the first run of the game to give Texas a 1-0 lead – and it proved to be enough.
Madison Carter drew a two-out walk to force in another run. Back-to-back triples by Zane Gurwitz and Marlow to begin the second inning sparked a second straight two-run rally and suddenly the Longhorns led Vanderbilt, 4-0.
Those were the last runs of the game. Thornhill retired 15 of the final 17 batters he faced, throwing 83 of a career-high 131 pitches for strikes. Curtiss fittingly retired the side in the ninth against a Vanderbilt team that scored 11 runs in its first two CWS games – both wins.
But, on Friday, the Longhorns tossed their second straight shutout and have allowed just one run in their last 28 innings. Parker French, who allowed that run in a masterful effort during a 4-1 win over Louisville on Monday, is sure to start for Texas in Saturday’s contest against Vanderbilt.
If Virginia, the other team to start 2-0 at this year’s CWS, beats Ole Miss tonight, the Longhorns will play at 7 p.m. tomorrow. If the Rebels win tonight, Texas will play at 2 p.m. again.
Friday marked the 15th time in 35 trips to Omaha that Texas won three straight games at the CWS. Four of those times came when the Longhorns were facing elimination in each of those games, with Texas twice winning the national title out of those four times – in 1950 and 1975.
If the Longhorns -- now 4-0 in elimination games this year -- are to keep their hopes of winning a national championship this year alive, they will need to beat Vanderbilt again Saturday. That would earn them a spot in the CWS title series next week.