Three whole years — that’s how long it took for the senior Longhorns’ to return to Omaha for the College World Series.
After making the trip to Omaha as freshmen, Texas’ senior class assumed the journey to the Midwest would be an annual occurrence. But the last couple of years haven’t been too kind to Texas baseball. After the 2011 season, it seemed as though all success had evaded the team.
“I took [success] for granted,” senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill said at a press conference. “Baseball kind of came back to get me.”
For Thornhill and fellow senior Mark Payton, the sense of unfinished business brought them back to Austin for their senior years. Both players passed up the opportunity to turn pro after being drafted in the 2013 MLB draft, but there was never any doubt that they had made the right decision by staying in school.
“It was worth it before we were going to Omaha,” Thornhill said. “It was in the fall knowing that we were doing everything we could to get going in the right direction. Going to Omaha and having an opportunity to compete for a national championship is icing on the cake.”
Those fall workouts were grueling, but they prepared the team to battle through a difficult Big 12 schedule — a conference with two other teams in the College World Series. The workouts got the team ready to go through a tough regional that included Rice and rival Texas A&M, and they also helped Texas sweep Houston to advance to Omaha. But most importantly, fall training brought the players together and helped them form a strong bond.
“A great group of guys: That’s one thing that helps it,” Thornhill said. “We’ve suffered together. We’ve won together. That’s what makes you brothers, and that’s what makes us a great team. We still love each other, and it’s been a lot of fun.”
So now more than ever, the team will look to each other to make their run at a national championship, a feat that has not been accomplished since 2005. Head coach Augie Garrido wants his team to focus on one another rather than worrying about the uncontrollable things.
“It’s still about staying focused on one another and playing the game the way you know how,” Garrido said. “Play the game that you have. Don’t try to create a new one now that you’re in a different environment.”
While nerves may factor into the games, the environment the Longhorns will be playing in won’t be overwhelmingly different. TD Ameritrade Park plays incredibly big, much like Texas’ UFCU Disch-Falk Field.
The competition won’t be any more difficult than the teams they had to get past to get to this point. The key to the Longhorns success in Omaha will be whether they trust themselves and don’t overthink the game.
“That’s all you can ever do, we teach that from the very beginning,” Garrido said. “It’s about the game. You have to have respect for the game itself and you have to play the game and not the opponent.”
Now that Texas has played a game in Omaha, a 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine, the younger players also know how it feels to make it to college baseball’s biggest stage. Despite the new environment for most of the players, Texas will continue, as it has all season, to rely on each other throughout their championship run.
“As a team we’re going out there for each other,” Payton said. “That’s what we’re doing right now, just going out playing for each other, playing for the coaches, playing for the guy next to us and not letting each other down.”