For the first time in five years, Texas won a game in Omaha on Monday, using a spectacular start from junior Parker French to keep their season alive with a 4-1 win over Louisville in a College World Series elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park.
In arguably his finest outing as a Longhorn, French held the Cardinals to one run on four hits over 7 1/3 innings, striking out three and walking three. He got plenty of help from the teammates behind him, including a pair of stellar plays from sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa.
True to their “small ball” ways, Texas did not drive in any of its four runs with a base hit. The Longhorns struggled to bring runners home after putting them in scoring position in their CWS-opening loss to UC-Irvine on Saturday, but cashed in when opportunities presented themselves on Monday.
Texas will face the loser of the Monday night’s game between UC-Irvine and Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Zane Gurwitz led the third inning off with a double, moving to third on a soft comebacker by leadoff man Brooks Marlow before scoring on a sacrifice fly from Ben Johnson, just barely beating throw the home to give the Longhorns a 1-0 lead.
In the fourth, Hinojosa and Shaw began the inning with singles to left before Madison Carter’s sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third. Kacy Clemens bounced a ball to Cardinals shortstop Sutton Whiting, who booted the ball and allowed Hinojosa to score – the first of four errors committed by Louisville.
Texas took advantage of two more Cardinals errors in the fifth. Mark Payton, who delivered his first hit in 11 CWS at-bats two innings earlier, drew a one-out walk before Tres Barrera reached on an error by second baseman Zach Lucas. Hinojosa nearly grounded into an inning-ending double play but Lucas’ throw got away from first baseman Grant Kay.
Payton scored on the play to give the Longhorns a commanding 3-0 lead and it proved to be plenty of run support for French. After walking the leadoff man in the eighth and plunking the next, French was replaced by sophomore left-hander Travis Duke, who retired both batters he faced but not before Louisville scored its only run of the game on an RBI groundout.
Texas got the run back in the ninth, when Carter singled to left to lead things off. Clemens attempted a sacrifice bunt but gave hard-throwing Louisville closer Nick Burdi a chance to force Carter out at second. Instead, Burdi threw the ball into center field. He made a better throw to first on the bunt laid down by Gurwitz that moved Clemens and Carter to second and third before Marlow’s sacrifice fly scored Carter to make it 4-1. Duke pitched a perfect ninth to give Texas the victory and extending its season for at least another couple days.
Until Longhorns head coach Augie Garrido names a starter for Wednesday’s game, fans will speculate as to who will toe the rubber in yet another elimination game.
Garrido could opt for sophomore Chad Hollingsworth, who twirled a complete-game masterpiece against Texas A&M in the Houston Regional-clinching victory two weeks ago in his first career start. He could go with junior Lukas Schiraldi, who has been up and down all year but is 7-3 on the year, albeit with a 4.08 ERA.
What we do know is that Nathan Thornhill, who also pitched into the eighth inning of Saturday’s defeat, and French have kept the Texas bullpen fresh moving forward. Only Duke and closer John Curtiss, who threw 23 pitches over 1 2/3 innings on Saturday, have come out of the bullpen for the Longhorns so far in Omaha.
That could prove significant if Texas triumphs Wednesday since it will need wins on Friday and Saturday over the winner of the UC-Irvine-Vanderbilt game to advance to the CWS championship series. For now, the Longhorns will focus on Wednesday night.