OMAHA, Nebraska — It took just one swing of the bat. Suddenly, the Texas Longhorns saw victory in sight.
Playing for the second straight day past midnight because of storms in the area, the Longhorns did not look the slightest bit fatigued as they defeated Mississippi State, 8-5, in a must-win contest at TD Ameritrade Park in the College World Series.
The contest was highlighted by a dramatic three-run home run by Texas designated hitter Ivan Melendez in the ninth inning, as the Horns broke the 5-5 tie and held on for the win.
Texas had faced the Bulldogs twice prior this season, once in February to open the schedule, and on Sunday in its first game in Omaha. But in both contests, Mississippi State had prevailed. However, the tide was turned Friday night ... or more accurately, Saturday morning.
The victory forces another matchup between Texas and Mississippi State at 6 p.m. Saturday, in a game that can be seen on ESPN2. The winner will advance to the College World Series final against Vanderbilt, which advanced to the final after its game against North Carolina State was declared a "no contest" due to COVID-19 protocol issues within the N.C. State program.
The losing team's season will be over..
"Well, we need to get a good eight hours of sleep, a good breakfast, and then go from there," Melendez said when asked on ESPN after the game what Texas will need to do to advance to the final. "We did it yesterday ... or today ... I don't even know — I'm confused. But it's baseball. We do this for a living."
Unlike in Sunday's previous meeting between the two opponents, in which Texas did not score until the ninth inning, the Longhorns found their rhythm early. First baseman Zach Zubia connected on a 1-1 pitch in Texas' third at-bat of the game, driving the pitch from Mississippi State starter Houston Harding over the right field wall.
Texas head coach David Pierce sent Ty Madden, who had started twice against the Bulldogs already this season, to the mound. Madden, who had given up six earned runs in 11 innings of work against Mississippi State's lineup this year, was challenged from the start.
Center fielder Rowdey Jordan led off with a single for the Bulldogs to open the contest, and came around to score one out later, on an RBI base hit by third baseman Kamren James, who then scored on a single to left by catcher Logan Tanner to put Mississippi State in front, 2-1. The Texas infield got Madden out of the opening frame, turning a double play to eliminate any chance of additional scoring opportunities and keep the Horns within striking distance.
Two of the three infielders involved on that double play, shortstop Trey Faltine and second baseman Mitchell Daly, stepped up on the offensive end a half inning later. In the top of the second, Daly singled to lead off the inning, advanced to second on a single and then stole third. Faltine then lofted a long fly ball to left field with one out to score Daly, knotting the score at 2-2.
Madden held Mississippi State hitless through the sixth inning before giving way to freshman reliever Tanner Witt, who tallied a quick three outs in the seventh, but faced significant trouble in the eighth. He lost command of several pitches, even issuing a four-pitch bases-loaded walk that cut the Texas lead to 5-3. An RBI single off the bat of left fielder Brad Cumbest in the next at-bat was enough to bring the runners from second and third across the plate as the Bulldogs once again tied the score.
With the season on the line, Melendez delivered in the top of the ninth. With rain already falling heavily, and center fielder Mike Antico and Zubia having reached base on walks, Melendez sent the three-run homer into the left-field seats, much to the dismay of Bulldog reliever Parker Stinnett, who failed to record an out in 17 pitches.
"(I'm) just seeing the ball well right now," Melendez said on ESPN following the game. "I've been making a few adjustments. I hadn't been seeing the ball well the last two weeks. Hitting is just a game of adjustments."
A walk to Daly followed, but the storm in the area had quickly moved in. A delay of more than two hours ensued, with the game pausing at 10:39 p.m. Friday, and resuming at 1:05 a.m. Saturday morning.
After the delay, reliever Aaron Nixon made an appearance for the second consecutive day, entering the game with one out in the eighth, and remained on the hill to close out the win in the ninth, improving his season record to 4-3; Brandon Smith, Mississippi State's fourth pitcher of the night, was tagged with the loss to fall to 4-4, despite giving up no hits over 1-2/3 innings. An error by Zubia to open the frame and a walk put two runners aboard, but the freshman reliever tallied three outs, inducing a ground ball that Faltine fielded perfectly, to end the game.
Both Melendez and Antico had two hits on the day, and scored one run apiece. Madden finished with a stat line of six innings pitched, two earned runs, four hits, three walks and eight strikeouts.