College World Series

Freshman pitcher Connor Mayes got a pair of big outs to help Texas escape a bases-loaded jam in the eighth and propel Texas to its first win since March 22.
Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns’ road back to the College World Series will start in Dallas this weekend.

Texas was selected as the No. 3 seed in the Dallas Regional and will face Oregon State at 1:30 p.m. Friday, the selection committee announced Monday morning. Dallas Baptist and Virginia Commonwealth are the other two teams in the double-elimination tournament.

Just a couple weeks ago, the Longhorns seemed destined to miss the NCAA Tournament for the third time in three years. Texas was 2–10 against the top-four teams in the Big 12 and needed to win the conference tournament to reach the regionals.

But the Longhorns went on a run this past weekend in Tulsa. Senior Parker French, junior Ty Culbreth and freshman Connor Mayes each threw complete games, and sophomore center fielder Zane Gurwitz lined a go-ahead RBI single in the championship game Sunday as Texas went 4–0 in the conference tournament.

Duplicating that success in the Dallas Regional, however, will be no easy task.

Dallas Baptist, which just fell short in its bid to be one of the eight national seeds, is hosting a regional for the first time in its history. The Patriots led the Missouri Valley Conference in a number of offensive categories and was second in the conference with 3.40 team ERA.

Oregon State, Texas’ opponent for Friday, finished second in the Pac-12 this season. The Beavers have relied primarily on their pitching with a 2.88 ERA, but they have also drilled 40 home runs this season.

VCU got into the tournament by winning its first-ever Atlantic 10 Conference Championship with a 5–3 win over Rhode Island on Saturday. The Rams led the conference with a 2.97 team ERA, and VCU had three pitchers in the top six in ERA in the conference.

The winner of the Dallas Regional will face the winner of the Miami Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional series next weekend for a spot in the College World Series. 

Photo Credit: Thalia Juarez | Daily Texan Staff

Reaching the College World Series is not the goal for Texas. It’s an expectation. 

The Longhorns have made 35 appearances in the program’s storied history, 12 more than the University of Miami, which ranks second. Since 2000, eight Texas squads have finished their seasons in Omaha, which alone would tie the University of Florida for the 17th most in the country.

After missing the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 Longhorns nearly played for the national title as part of a surprising run to Omaha. Texas’ season ended in the 10th inning of an elimination game against the eventual champions, Vanderbilt, on a walk-off infield single with two outs.

The nature of the loss, combined with the returning talent and incoming freshmen, made many believe that the year’s team had the ability and grit to play for the championship that eluded its 2014 counterparts.

The Longhorns returned seven of its nine players in its starting lineup and added some touted freshmen, such as first baseman and catcher Michael Cantu.

With so much returning experience, the Longhorns were expected to produce a fairly potent offense. Instead, through 28 games, the Longhorns have scored 233 runs, which equates to 5.07 per game, just over one-half a run better than the 4.46 it averaged in 2014.

In last weekend’s disastrous series in Lincoln against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Longhorns mustered only 12 hits in 105 at-bats, while scoring three runs in 33 innings. In three games, Texas’ team batting average dropped nearly 20 points, from .270 entering the weekend to .252.

However, the bats have given fans some reasons to be optimistic, such as the team’s slugging percentage, which sits at .395, up from the .353 it hit a year ago. This is a result of the 2.96 bases hits the team is averaging per game, after only averaging 2.03 such hits last season.

In contrast, Texas’ pitching staff has suffered significant losses to the MLB Draft and graduation, with senior right-handed pitcher Parker French as its only returning weekend starter. After two months of the season, the starting rotation seems set, as junior right-handed pitcher Chad Hollingsworth and sophomore right-handed pitcher Kacy Clemens are settling in as the other weekend starters.

The staff’s ERA is currently 2.67, down from 2.25 it posted a season ago, but it’s been performing better as of late. However, Texas has been unable to get its hitting and pitching clicking concurrently.

As a result, the Longhorns have already lost 11 times in 28 games. Texas didn’t suffer its 11th loss until its 41st contest a season ago. This year’s team has battled adversity from the start of the season, while the 2014 team’s struggles came in the form of dropping seven of nine during a crucial stretch in conference play from mid-April to early May.

Texas just needs to win enough to secure a tournament bid, as it’s converted three of its four trips into College World Series appearances since 2009. This team has enough talent to reach the College World Series for the 36th time in program history, and it very well might start with a strong showing in this weekend’s series at Oklahoma State.

Senior pitcher Parker French has taken over the top spot in the pitching rotation after posting a 2.41 ERA last season.
Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

This weekend, the No. 6 Longhorns’ goal for their opening series at Rice is simple.

“[I want them] not to be nervous like we were against Cal last season,” head coach Augie Garrido said. 

Last year, in the opening series at California, Texas committed six errors in its first two games, quickly earning a 0–2 record, before recovering to take the next two games of the series.

A similiar performance this weekend against No. 13 Rice would likely end up with disastrous consequences. The Owls enter the season as the unanimous choice to win Conference USA and a fellow contender to make it to Omaha, Nebraska, in June.

Rice’s junior pitcher, Blake Fox, was named the preseason pitcher of the year for the conference after posting a 1.46 ERA last year, and senior catcher John Clay Reeves was tabbed the preseason player of the year.

But Texas senior second baseman Brooks Marlow said the team is not worried about how Rice is doing.

“We’ve just got to take it pitch-by-pitch and game-by-game,” Marlow said. “It doesn’t matter who we play; we’re just going to play
Texas baseball.”

The Longhorns have firepower of their own, with 22 returning players from last year’s team, including seven starting position players who made a run at the College World Series. Texas even beat Rice in the regional round of the NCAA tournament last year.

Garrido said experience should help eliminate the early-season errors they had last year.

“They most likely will not doubt themselves as much [this year] because of that,” Garrido said. “That is my hope at Rice.”

One potential early-season weak spot is the team’s pitching. While senior pitcher Parker French will get the start Friday, sophomore pitchers Kacy Clemens and Josh Sawyer, Saturday’s starters, have yet to see substantial time on the hill in collegiate action. Last year’s postseason star, junior pitcher Chad Hollingsworth, is coming off shoulder issues from the summer.

On the offensive side of things, the Longhorns stand out. Junior shortstop C.J Hinojosa, sophomore catcher Tres Barrera and Marlow, who drilled four home runs last year, are just the tip of the iceberg of what Texas brings to the batter’s box this year.

With freshmen such as catcher Michael Cantu, who hit .352 in high school, and third baseman Bret Boswell, who hit .410 before coming to college, Texas feels confident it’ll be solid on all sides of the ball this year.

“We’ve got one of the best pitching staffs, and we have one of the toughest hitting lineups in the country,” Marlow said. “I think it’s all going to come together, and it’s going to be really good.”

How good the Longhorns will be this season probably won’t be determined during this four-game series, given the ups and downs the team had last season on its run to the College World Series.

Still, the Longhorns want to make a statement this weekend.

“We’ve got to go out there and play a hard game,” Marlow said. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen that need to get their feet wet. This is the weekend to do it and see how they’re going to react to the atmosphere around them and see what they’re capable of.”

Junior outfielder Lindsey Stephens was named one of the softball team’s three captains and hopes to help the team bounce back after a relatively down year.

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ softball campaign came to an end last season at the hands of Louisiana-Lafayette in a 10-1 routing during Regionals.

This season, the Longhorns are looking to bounce back.

“Losing that game — it was heartbreaking,” junior outfielder Lindsey Stephens said. “It was actually hard for me to watch the [College] World Series and the Super Regionals after that because I wasn’t ready to finish the season.”

Because Texas lost four seniors last year and only has two seniors this year, leadership may be a challenge early on. However, Stephens said others on the team will not shy away from the challenge.

“The team as a whole—we all are great leaders at some point, and we also learn how to follow,” Stephens said. “So I think that’s what is really good about us.”

The three captains this year — outfielder Rachel Scott, second baseman Stephanie Ceo and Stephens — are juniors who went to the College World Series two years ago.

“We have some captains on the team, and I just think that we’re going to try to guide us all back to the World Series,” Stephens said.

Their experience and leadership will be key if the Longhorns want to return to Oklahoma City.

“I thought the team and the staff did a great job of being on the same page on who we would have wanted as captains,” head coach Connie Clark said. “Those are three young women that are ready to take on the reign.”

Clark said this year’s group is ready to get another shot at the Worlds Series. 

“I think this group is motivated to make to the top eight. We want to be at the Women’s College World Series, and that’s all we’re talking about,” Clark said. “It’s more realistic that we can talk about that this year.”

The players agree that this team feels more motivated.

“Our goal every year is to get back to the World Series and win the World Series,” Ceo said. “So, no matter what, it’s always going to be that motivation. We came up short in Regionals last year, and it’s just an extra push to get even further this year.”

Texas baseball head coach Augie Garrido, the NCAA's all time winningest coach, received a two-year contract extension last Tuesday, keeping him with the Longhorns through the 2017 season. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns head baseball coach Augie Garrido, the winningest coach in NCAA history, will be staying in Austin at least a little while longer.

Texas athletic director Steve Patterson announced July 1that Garrido has received a two-year contract extension that will keep him under contract through the 2017 season.

“We’re pleased with the great postseason run the team had this year,” Patterson said. “We’re excited to have Augie around for another three years to try and win more National Championships.”

Garrido has guided the Longhorns to 14 NCAA Tournaments, eight College World Series appearances and two National Championships since taking over the program prior to the 1997 season.

In 2014, Garrido led Texas to a 46-21 record as the Longhorns fell one win short of making the championship series, losing to Vanderbilt in the College World Series.

“We as coaches and our support staff are all excited to have the opportunity to continue to help develop the baseball and life skills of the current players and incoming recruits at the University of Texas,” Garrido said.

 

Parker French to return for 2015 season

After weighing his options, Texas pitcher Parker French has decided to return for his senior season with the Longhorns. 

French, a Dripping Springs native, served as the team’s Friday starter during the 2014 season, posting a 7-5 record with a 2.41 ERA. French declined  his professional contract after he was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 19th round of the MLB Draft.

“I would like to thank the Detroit Tigers for the opportunity to play professional baseball,” French tweeted. “But I have some unfinished business left in Austin.”

French was a major contributing factor for the Longhorns on their trip to the College World Series. He helped Texas defeat the Houston Cougars in the Super Regionals, tossing a six-inning shutout. French also led Texas to a win against Louisville in this year’s College World Series.

“Now it’s time to focus on Omaha 2015,” French said.

 

Tres Barrera wins College Home Run Derby

Texas freshman catcher Tres Barrera won the 2014 College Home Run Derby championship Thursday, hitting a total of 41 homers over the course of the three round contest at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha.

Barrera had his father pitch to him in the event and the family duo teamed up to produce 25 home runs in the final round to earn the win.

 “I just got in a groove and went from there,” Barrera said. “My dad was throwing strikes right where I liked them and I took good hacks.”

Barrera’s 25 homers kept him well clear of his high school teammate and fellow Mission, Texas native, Eric Gutierrez of Texas Tech, who finished second in the derby, with 18 home runs in the final round.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns’ journey to this year’s College World Series didn’t start on Valentine’s Day in California, when Texas opened its season against the California Golden Bears.

It didn’t start last fall, when the team was barred from its own clubhouse and forced to feel like visitors in their own ballpark as they went through exhaustive workouts and team bonding exercises.

No, the Longhorns’ surprising run to Omaha began last summer, when their two veteran leaders, Nathan Thornhill and Mark Payton, passed on the opportunity to go pro and elected to return to Austin for their senior season.

“Getting to the College World Series was one of our goals when we decided to come back together,” Payton said. “We’re not done with our job yet. We have a lot more work to do, but it feels good to know that we’re getting close to what we came back for.”

While Thornhill and Payton both attribute their return to a mutual desire to bring the Texas baseball program back to the national powerhouse it has long been known as, head coach Augie Garrido said it wasn’t that easy.

“It took four months of begging on my part,” Garrido said.

No matter how much pleading it might have taken, there’s no doubt Garrido’s efforts were worth it, given how much of an impact the two seniors have had on his ball club.

Thornhill, a Cedar Park native, has been Texas’ most efficient and dependable pitcher this season, taking the mound in several of the Longhorns’ most important contests. As the anchor of perhaps the best pitching staff Garrido has coached at Texas, Thornhill’s 8-2 record and 1.57 ERA entering the College World Series are an obvious explanation of why his manager gave him the ball in the opener.

Payton, who hails from Chicago, has meant just as much to the Longhorn lineup as Thornhill has to their pitching staff. The 5’8” spark plug has come up with countless clutch hits and is as sure-handed as they come in center field. His incomprehensible 101-game on-base streak finally came to an end in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine in Omaha, but Payton’s consistent play has been vital to Texas’ success all season.

“[Payton’s] a very selfless person,” sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa said. “The word selfish is used a lot in baseball and this kid is the complete opposite of that. He is always looking out for the guy next to him. That’s part of what’s good because he is our senior leader along with Nate [Thornhill].”

While Thornhill and Payton’s respective contributions to the team’s success on the diamond can’t be overstated, it is their leadership off the field that has helped the younger players overcome the struggles of the last two seasons.

As two of only four players left from the 2011 team that made it to Omaha, Thornhill and Payton have worked all season to instill in their teammates an understanding of just how much effort it takes to get to that point.

Now that they’ve made it, the two veteran leaders have a simple message for their young teammates: Just play ball, relax and enjoy the experience

“The guys who haven’t been are just going to have to hop in and do what they’ve done to get us to this point,” Payton said. “You just have to jump in and play your game and have fun doing it. Obviously, you can’t take going to the College World Series for granted. You just have to go out and have fun doing it.

Now settled in at the College World Series, Thornhill and Payton have certainly had time to reflect on their final season wearing burnt orange. It’s been an incredible ride, but there is still work to be done.

“It is,” Thornhill said when asked if this NCAA Tournament run has been somewhat of a fairy tale ending. “Not yet though. Being [in Omaha] is one thing, but winning there is a whole other thing.”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

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.”

Head coach Augie Garrido watches practice. In his fifteenth year at Texas, Garrido took the Longhorns to their 34th College World Series.

Photo Credit: Andrew Edmonson | Daily Texan Staff

These Longhorns likely won’t go down as Texas’ best team under Augie Garrido. In fact, of the eight Texas squads he’s brought to the College World Series, this team may finish with the least wins. Currently, they have the lowest batting average, .267, of the eight teams.

Regardless, this team is clicking at the right time and, thanks to an impressive start to the postseason, this year’s pitching staff has the lowest ERA, 2.33, of any Texas team during Garrido’s tenure. 

After finishing last in the Big 12 in 2013, the Longhorns started this season 21-6 — their best start since they last won the national title in 2005. They won their first conference series in nearly two calendar years by taking two of three from Texas Tech early on in conference play. Texas followed that up with sweeps of Baylor and Oklahoma, as the Longhorns rose up to No. 4 in the polls with a record of 30-8 with half their conference games left to be played.

During that 15-2 stretch, Texas averaged 2.88 extra base hits per game, which was more than double their average during the first 21 contests. Over this period the Longhorns scored over 6.5 runs per game while the pitching staff’s ERA was a paltry 2.02.

But the Longhorns were overmatched by TCU, only scoring one run while being swept in three games at home. This marked the beginning of Texas’ troubles as the Longhorns would go 8-10 to limp into the NCAA Tournament. In their losses, Texas only hit .226 while committing 1.4 errors per loss. These struggles extended to the mound, as the team’s ERA of 4.29 in those losses raised the staff ERA to 2.45 overall for the season. Texas pitchers also allowed two extra base hits per game in the 10 losses, after giving up only 1.13 per game in the team’s first 38 contests.

The Longhorns dropped seven of nine conference games during that span, until it won its final conference series of the season by taking two of three from last place Kansas State. It won its first two games of the Big 12 Championship with relative ease, only to blow a pair of one-run games to Oklahoma State to end Texas’ run in Oklahoma City. 

Since the start of the NCAA Tournament, however, the Longhorns seem to have figured out the cure to their woes. Using a combination of dominant pitching, solid defense and just enough offense, Texas was able to return to Omaha after a two-year interval.

Dominant may not be doing the pitching staff’s performance justice so far this postseason. Texas’ pitchers had posted an ERA of 1.15 and allowed only two extra base hits allowed in six tournament contests prior to the College World Series. Texas committed three errors in its loss to Texas A&M, but has only committed three errors in its five postseason wins to further emphasize the importance of defense in the tournament. 

In the six tournament games before they made the trip to Omaha, the Longhorn offense averaged over four runs a game, which was enough to win, thanks to the stellar play on the mound.

Longhorn fans have to be happy with this team’s performance in the tournament. Texas seems to have finally found its groove and managed to turn a disappointing season into another trip to Omaha. If the offense can continue to find a way to score four or five runs a game, Texas’ pitching should be able to hold up and carry this squad to the program’s seventh national championship.

UC Irvine's Grant Palmer (27) reaches second base on a double against Texas second baseman Brooks Marlow (8), in the second inning of an NCAA baseball College World Series game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, June 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

Photo Credit: AP Exchange | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Longhorns gave up five hits and three runs in the eighth inning, blowing a 1-0 lead, as they fell to the UC Irvine Anteaters, 3-1, in the opening game of the College World Series.

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill pitched a solid seven and a third innings, but was tagged with the loss after allowing two runs.

The Anteaters threatened in the first inning when third baseman Andrew Sparks singled  and advanced to second on an error and reached third with one out. Thornhill pitched out of that jam to strand the runner at third as he would do in three of UC Irvine’s first four innings.

The Longhorns had a chance to get an early lead off of Andrew Morales, after junior second baseman Brooks Marlow and sophomore outfielder Ben Johnson both walked. Senior centerfielder Mark Payton bunted them over but freshman catcher Tres Barrera and sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa both were retired to strand two in scoring position.

Texas struck first in the  bottom of the second when junior rightfielder Collin Shaw doubled and senior designated hitter Madison Carter bunted him over to third. Freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens managed to reach base, leading to freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz who drove in Shaw on an infield bunt single.

Texas had the bases loaded with one out but couldn’t produce a second run, a common theme as the team stranded 12 on base, and only hit 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the game.

UC Irvine also wasted plenty of opportunities, leaving six on base, but managed to get three across the plate in the decisive eighth inning.  Texas allowed three extra base hits in the contest after only surrendering two such hits in its first six NCAA Tournament games.

Texas will face the loser of tonight’s game between Vanderbilt and Louisville at 2 p.m. Monday. The Longhorns now sit one loss away from elimination, and will need to win four straight to reach the Championship.

Mark Payton’s record on-base streak of 101 games ended in the loss, as he went 0-for-4 and was out on a sacrifice bunt.

 

Texas players celebrate after a 4-0 series win over the Houston Cougars in the NCAA Super Regionals on Saturday afternoon. The Longhorns will move on to the College World Series in Omaha for the first time since 2011.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

For the first time since 2011, the Texas Longhorns will play in the College World Series.

Despite being outhit in the contest, Texas beat the Houston Cougars, 4-0, at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Saturday to win its Super Regional and earn a trip to Omaha for the first time in three years.

“Once again, it’s about runs, not hits,” Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. “They had 10 hits, we had eight, but it was about runs.”

The Longhorns broke things open in the fourth inning as they batted around, scoring four runs on six hits in the frame.

C.J Hinojosa, who has been phenomenal throughout the NCAA Tournament for Texas, singled to right field with the bases loaded to drive in the first two runs of the afternoon.

“[Hinojosa’s] hit broke the game open and started the momentum,” Garrido said.

From there, Collin Shaw and Kacy Clemens each drove in a run to clear the bases and give Texas a four run lead. 

Those runs proved to be all the Longhorns would need on the day, as the Texas pitching staff combined to shut out the Cougars.

Junior Parker French got the start for the Longhorns and pitched six shutout innings, giving up just five hits.

“I wasn’t going to let these guys down today,” French said. “I didn’t want to lose this game. It was just pure will power, pitching for my teammates.”

Travis Duke, Morgan Cooper and John Curtiss came out of the bullpen for the Longhorns and gave up a total of six hits over the final three innings.

While Houston failed to score any runs, they threatened several times. The Cougars loaded the bases on multiple occasions but each time Texas was able to slam the door, stranding 14 Houston runners in the contest.

“They had the bases loaded a couple of times, and it didn’t work out for them,” Garrido said. “But that’s many times what separates two good teams. On any given day, the balls you hit hard don’t always fall.”

The Longhorns will now make their 35th College World Series appearance, but it will be the first for many players on the team. Of the 27 players on this year’s roster, only four were on the squad that went to Omaha in 2011.

“We just have to play our game [in Omaha],” said senior centerfielder Mark Payton, who was a member of the 2011 team. “The team that relaxes is the team that’s going to win the game. My job is just to keep these guys relaxed and make sure they’re having fun.”