By Christian Corona
Nathan Thornhill pitched good enough to win.
But, because the Longhorns bats didn’t match Thornhill’s efforts, the senior right-hander was saddled with his third loss of the year as Texas fell to UC-Irvine, 3-1, in its College World Series opener on Saturday afternoon.
The Longhorns left 12 batters in base, including seven in scoring position, and Mark Payton’s streak of reaching base in 101 consecutive games came to an end as the senior center fielder went 0-for-3 and is now hitless in 9 CWS at-bats.
Texas will face the loser of the Louisville-Vanderbilt game later today and will need to win four straight games over the next week to remain alive in the CWS and advance to the tournament’s championship series. The Longhorns have now lost four straight CWS games, dating back to 2009.
Payton first stepped to the plate with two on and nobody out in the first inning but was asked to sacrifice bunt Brooks Marlow and Ben Johnson to second and third base. Texas failed to score in the inning as Tres Barrera followed by striking out and C.J Hinojosa grounded out to end the inning.
Facing Anteaters ace Andrew Morales, the No. 71 overall selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in this year’s MLB Draft, Texas had multiple chances to put up crooked numbers. But all they had to show for the numerous opportunities was a second-inning run Zane Gurwitz’ squeeze bunt brought home Collin Shaw, who led the frame off with a double – the Longhorns’ only extra-base hit of the game.
Texas had runners on first and second base with one out in both the fifth and seventh innings but could not pick up the crucial insurance run. It proved costly as UC-Irvine finally broke through against Thornhill in the eighth inning.
Protecting a 1-0 lead, Thornhill allowed a leadoff single from Adam Alcantara in the eighth before a sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position with one out. Anteaters leadoff man Taylor Sparks then launched a ball over Payton’s head in left-center for a game-tying RBI triple. It was the 94th and final pitch Thornhill threw as he was replaced by Longhorns closer John Curtiss.
Thornhill delivered his third quality starts in as many NCAA Tournament starts, allowing just two runs on six hits over 7 1/3 innings, striking out four and walking one. But he fell to 8-3 on the year.
Over his last four appearances, spanning eight shutout innings, Curtiss had given up just two hits. But the sophomore right-hander surrendered base hits to three of the first four batters he faced. Chris Rabago hit the first pitch he threw up the middle for a go-ahead RBI single.
Three batters later, Jonathan Munoz singled to bring home an insurance run for UC-Irvine as Connor Spencer, who also singled in the inning, was thrown out by Gurwitz trying to go from first to third on the play.
The last eight batters sent to the plate were retired by, seven by Evan Brock, who tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings in relief. Brock struck out the side in the ninth, with Ben Johnson going down looking, Payton going down swinging to end the incredible aforementioned 101-game streak and Barrera going down looking to end the game.