The day after a national champion was crowned in Omaha, Longhorns right-hander Nathan Thornhill talks about hoping that he’s a part of the dogpile there this time next year.
Thornhill was selected in the 24th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, who gave him the biggest offer they could but it wasn’t enough to sign the 6-footer from Cedar Park. Instead, Thornhill wants to right the Texas ship after the Longhorns missed out on the postseason each of the last two years.
“One day, I’d be leaning toward signing and the next day I’d be leaning toward coming back. I could never really get any clarity on what was best for me,” Thornhill said. “The University of Texas has done a lot for me. They took a chance on me coming out of high school and gave me shot to fulfill my dreams. This decision was a great decision for me and it was also a decision that was made for a bigger cause and that cause is our school.”
Thornhill went 3-6 with a 2.21 ERA, striking out 60 and walking 15 in 85 1/3 innings last season. Thornhill has made 54 career appearances, including 26 starts, going 10-11 with a 2.83 ERA over the last three years and holding opposing hitters to a .238 batting average.
Other than the win-loss record, Thornhill put up good numbers in 2013 yet slipped in the draft. He was the last of four Longhorns picked this year, the others being closer Corey Knebel (1st round, Tigers), third baseman Erich Weiss (11th round, Pirates), and right fielder Mark Payton (16th round, Angels).
“I was a little surprised. I thought I was going to be drafted earlier,” Thornhill said. “There’s anxiety. There’s being nervous and there’s a little frustration because you’re wondering when it’s going to happen. When it finally happened, it was just excitement and relief. It was a great feeling.”
After spending most of his freshman year in the Texas bullpen, Thornhill was named the team’s ace before his sophomore season. He was a middle reliever by the end of that 2012 season before becoming the team’s No. 3 starter, behind sophomores Parker French and Dillon Peters, last year.
“We are thrilled to have Nathan back for the 2014 season,” pitching coach Skip Johnson said. “Having him back is a huge boost to our pitching staff, and we are excited to get going again this fall. We feel like this pitching staff will have a great mix of leadership, experience talent and dedication.”
All three – Thornhill, French and Peters – will return for the 2014 season, along with sophomore John Curtiss, who missed all of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. A spot in the Longhorns’ rotation isn’t guaranteed but, following a solid junior season, it’s hard to imagine Texas leaving Thornhill out.
“I’m not sure who is going to have what roles. I’ve been a starter and I’d like to continue on that path,” Thornhill said. “I’ve been pretty versatile as a pitcher. I’ve never thought that I can only do one thing.”
While the Longhorns return each of their three starting pitchers, they’ll have a new closer. While Weiss and Payton still mull the decision to sign or stay, Knebel has agreed to terms with the Tigers after saving 37 games in three years at Texas.
While Thornhill wants to be a starter, he wouldn’t mind being asked to be the team’s closer.
“I’d be honored that they would have that much faith in me,” Thornhill said. “That’d be a compliment to me, not so much to my ability but more to my mental toughness and the fact that I like to attack. I wouldn’t be mad about that. I’d be honored.”
Like Huston Street in 2002 and J. Brent Cox in 2005, David Berg closed out a national title-clinching win for UCLA on Tuesday night. The Bruins completed a sweep of Mississippi State to capture their first national championship in program history.
UCLA relied on its pitching and defense to win that title, hitting only .250 as a team in 2013 while posting a team ERA of 2.55. Texas, a team that is similarly built but was forced to watch the NCAA Tournament from home, hit .260 as a team this year while posting a 2.53 team ERA.
“It was cool to see a team with a similar style as us win it all because it shows we’re on the right track,” Thornhill said. “We’ve just got to get better at what we do.”
The Bruins won 49 games this season, 22 more than the Longhorns. Similar styles, different results. Thornhill is looking to change that next year.
“I can’t even say how great of a feeling that would be,” Thornhill said. “We have a tradition at Texas where winning it all is something that we want to do and something that’s kind of expected. Getting [to the College World Series] and you need to win when you get there. Doing that would be the icing on the cake.”