By Christian Corona
There was no run-scoring infield single off the second base umpire. No spectacular showing from the starting pitcher. Not enough hits when they were needed.
An incredible, improbable run by Texas at the College World Series ended with a 4-3, 10-inning loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday night. Wasted opportunities earlier in the game kept the Longhorns from winning the game in nine innings and their luck ran out in the 10th.
C.J Hinojosa, whose infield single off the second base umpire in Friday’s win scored the first of four Texas runs, threatened to give the Longhorns their first lead of Saturday’s contest by lifting a ball to deep right-center field in the 10th. But Rhett Wiseman tracked the ball down for a momentum-killing sliding catch to rob Hinojosa of extra bases.
Ben Johnson drew a two-out walk but Barrera struck out for the ninth time in 19 CWS at-bats to end the inning.
Texas closer John Curtiss sat down the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the 10th but loaded the bases by surrendering a two-out single to Wiseman, walking pinch-hitter Ro Coleman and plunking Karl Ellison. Tyler Campbell then hit a slow chopper to – who else? – Hinojosa, who fielded the ball on the run and fired to first but not in time.
The bases-loaded infield single sent Vanderbilt to its first-ever CWS championship series and sent the Longhorns packing, ending a magical postseason run and a season that far exceeded expectations. They finish the season at 45-21, winning 18 more games than they did when they missed the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.
For the first time in five games at the CWS, Texas did not get a superb effort from its starting pitcher. Parker French lasted just two innings, needing 54 pitches to do so, while allowing one run on two hits and walking two, striking out none.
After back-to-back one-out singles by Bryan Reynolds and Vince Conde, French walked the bases loaded in the first inning. A fielder’s choice scored Vanderbilt’s first run and, following another walk, this one with two out and on just four pitches. French got through the second inning unscathed but his day was done.
Fortunately for the Longhorns, they had Morgan Cooper at their disposal. In his first-ever CWS appearance, the freshman right-hander did a brilliant job keeping Texas in the game. Zane Gurwitz made his second error of the game to allow the Commodores’ leadoff man to reach base in the third, costing the Longhorns a run.
But a leadoff double by C.J Hinojosa in the fourth sparked a two-run, game-tying rally. Collin Shaw followed by laying down a perfect bunt down the third base line for another hit. Ben Johnson drew a walk to load the bases with no out – just like Texas did in the first inning of Friday’s win.
And, just like in that game, Tres Barrera struck out on four pitches but the Longhorns still managed to push two runs across. Kacy Clemens drove in a pair with a sharp single up the middle to knot things up, 2-2. But Texas couldn’t take the lead as Gurwitz grounded out to first and Marlow flied out to left.
Texas again loaded the bases in the fifth but had nothing to show for it. Vanderbilt starter Carson Fulmer walked three straight Longhorns before being replaced by Hayden Stone, who got two outs with his first pitch, which was grounded into a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play by Ben Johnson.
Cooper held Vanderbilt at bay for the most part, allowing two runs, one earned, on six hits over 4 2/3 innings. The second run came on an RBI double by Wiseman in the fifth, but the Longhorns would respond again.
This time, it was a slumping Barrera who tied the game, by leading off the sixth inning with a triple to deep center and scoring on an RBI single to left by Gurwitz.
What ensued was a battle of the bullpens. Travis Duke replaced Cooper with two out in the seventh and the go-ahead run in scoring position at second base, getting Wiseman to pop out to Hinojosa to end the threat.
Ben Johnson led the eighth inning off with a single up the middle but Barrera popped up a sacrifice bunt attempt, with Clemens and Gurwitz striking out to end the frame.
Duke got some help from Barrera in the ninth when he allowed a one-out single to Reynolds softly lined up the middle, ending his night. Curtiss came on for Duke before Barrera gunned Reynolds out trying to steal second. Duke promptly struck Conde out to end the ninth and send the game to extra innings.
It was in those extra innings that Texas’ season came to a close. While the Longhorns will pine about coming so close to playing for and possibly winning a national championship – the only thing that triggers a burnt orange dogpile – it’s worth remembering that hardly anyone outside the Texas dugout thought they’d come anywhere close to Omaha.
Whatever John Curtiss, Parker French and Dillon Peters – all Longhorns underclassmen who were recently selected in the MLB Draft – decide to do, the future is once again bright at Texas. Augie Garrido is sure to receive a well-deserved contract extension from new men’s athletics director Steve Patterson soon, and for good reason.
The Longhorns are back.