Horns batter Aggies, earn spot in NCAA winners’ bracket game
By Steve Habel
HOUSTON – Texas senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill knew the magnitude of things when he took the mound May 30 against Texas A&M in the opening round of the NCAA Houston Regional in what was unquestionably the biggest game for the Longhorns since the 2011 campaign that ended in at the College World Series in Omaha.
But little phases Thornhill, who turned in a typical workmanlike performance while hurling the Horns to a 8-1 win over their long-time rivals before a crowd of 6,603, the largest crowd in the history of Rice’s Reckling Park.
The Longhorns advance to the regional’s winners’ bracket and will play the winner of the late game between Rice and George Mason at 7 p.m. on May 31. Texas A&M is forced into the loser’s bracket and will return to the field at 3 p.m. on May 31.
Thornhill scattered six hits over seven innings, allowing just one run while striking out a career-high seven batters and walking only one.
Those numbers, while impressive in their own right, don’t begin to tell the whole story. Thornhill (7-2) battled his way out of a handful of jams, most notably in the fifth inning when the Aggies placed runners on the corners with one out only to be denied by back-to-back strikeouts. He stranded seven A&M baserunners, including three in scoring position.
It helped too than by then, Texas (39-18) had raked Texas A&M starter and ace Daniel Mengden for seven runs and seven hits in just 2 1/3 innings.
“We had a chance to cut into their lead in the fifth and we had the guys at bat we wanted in that situation but we just didn’t get it done,” Texas A&M coach Rob Childress said. “Thornhill pitched a great game but we didn’t do enough to get him out of his rhythm.
Leadoff hitter Brooks Marlow got the Horns off on the right foot with a home run in the bottom of the first inning after working Mendgen for a 10-pitch at bat. Marlow, who is likely Texas’ best player not named Mark Payton, said he was looking for a fastball from Mendgen in that situation.
“I knew he didn’t want to walk me after working so hard, so I zeroed in and got the pitch I was looking for,” said Marlow, who ripped his third home run of the season, all of which have come way from spacious Disch-Falk Field.
Payton later drove home Ben Johnson with a single to right field that extended his on-base streak to a nation’s best 96 games and gave UT a 2-0 lead.
After the Aggies (33-25) cut the advantage in half in the top of the second on an RBI single by Jace Statum, Texas responded with a run in the bottom half of the frame when C.J Hinojosa scooted home on a Mendgen wild pitch.
Texas broke the game open in the third, scoring four times on an RBI single by Madison Carter, a two-run double from Hinojosa and a single by Collin Shaw.
The Horns added a final run in the eighth on another Shaw run-scoring single that drove home Tres Barrera. Barrera, Carter, Hinojosa and Shaw each had two hits for Texas and Barrera, Johnson and Hinojosa scored twice each for the Horns.
Once ahead by a stout margin, Thornhill went after the strike zone and the Aggies couldn’t find a way to get him out of his comfort zone.
“I felt good out there today and after I got the big lead I just threw to the mitt and let my defense do the work,” Thornhill said. “Our hitters did a great job because they knew they had to and that gave me a little cushion. We played well, and we will play even better as this regional goes on.”
The game was the first between the Longhorns and Texas A&M in any of the big-three men’s sports (football, basketball and baseball) since the Aggies bolted to the Southeastern Conference before the 2012 football season. To a man, the Texas players downplayed the rivalry aspect of the win over the Aggies, calling the game “just another regional game we had to win, no matter the opponent.”
Texas coach Augie Garrido had to like his team’s adherence to the bottom like and Garrido’s process.
“We can’t afford to get too emotional in the game of baseball, and we didn’t today,” Garrido said. “Now it’s just as important for us win the second game to stay in the winners’ bracket.”