Mark Payton

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill led Texas past Vanderbilt Friday, pitching eight shutout innings en route to victory. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

OMAHA, Neb. - Dominant pitching and early scoring led the Longhorns to a 4-0 victory over the Commodores in Omaha Friday, setting up a rematch Saturday, for a trip to the Championship Series.

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill was brilliant on the mound, tossing eight innings of shut-out baseball and only surrendering six hits in what might have been his final start as a Longhorn. Thornhill had the Vanderbilt off balance all afternoon, despite being forced to throw 131 pitches, as his effort kept Texas from being eliminated for at least one more day.

“This is who he is," Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. "He doesn't lead by telling people what to do, he leads by doing it himself. He leads by example."

The Longhorns struck first, thanks to Vanderbilt starter Tyler Ferguson’s lack of control to begin the game. Ferguson hit junior second baseman Brooks Marlow with the first pitch of the game. Ferguson continued to pitch wildly in the first innning, as he walked sophomore leftfielder Ben Johnson and then hit senior centerfielder Mark Payton to load the bases with no outs.

Freshman catcher Tres Barrera struck out, bringing up sophomore shortstop CJ Hinojosa, who was the hero against UC Irvine, with one out and the bases loaded.  Hinojosa hit a sharp liner that ahad the potential to turn into a double play, but, fortunately for Texas, it hit the second base umpire, leading to a dead ball that advanced all the runners and scored Texas’ first run of the game.

Junior right fielder Collin Shaw then struck out, but the Longhorns scored another run in the first when senior designated hitter Madison Carter walked to score a run. After walking in the second run, Ferguson, who had only thrown 12 of his 27 pitches for strikes, was pulled.

The strong start, and specifically Hinojosa’s lucky hit, gave Texas momentum and allowed the Longhorns to take control of the game.

“It got us off to an early lead which we always like," Payton said. “That’s our goal on the offensive side, to let our pitcher settle down, and we were able to do that today.”

The Longhorns struck with two more in the second, via back-to-back triples by freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz and Marlow. Marlow scored after Payton layed down a sacrifice bunt and was called safe at first after an error.

Once the Longhorns took the early lead, Vanderbilt was never able to get back in the game, as Thornhill consistently got the better of the Commodores.  

Texas has impressed in their three contests since falling in the College World Series opener and appear to relish the "must-win" situations they have been forced to deal with.

“We got that mind that its either you win or you go home," Marlow said. "I think that’s what everyone is taking in after that first game against [UC] Irvine. If you lose you go home. I think that’s the mindset everyone has taken.”

The Longhorns will play the Commodores again Saturday at 7 p.m. Parker French will get the start for Texas.

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.”

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.


Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Almost exactly a year after they decided to return to Texas for their senior seasons, Mark Payton and Nathan Thornhill propelled Texas to a 4-2 win over Houston in the first game of the Super Regionals Friday.

Payton got the Longhorns off to a great start with a two-run homerun to right field in the first inning and finished the game with three hits. Thornhill pitched seven solid innings for Texas, giving up just two runs on seven hits while striking out three.

“The two seniors that came back led the way didn’t they?” Texas head coach Augie Garrido asked rhetorically after the game. “Nate [Thornhill] pitched really, really well and Mark [Payton] obviously had the big homerun.”

For Payton, it was quite the afternoon. Not only did he hit his second homerun of the season, extending his on-base streak to 100 games, he was also selected by the New York Yankees in the seventh round of the MLB Draft.

“I’m not worried about [the MLB] right now,” Payton said. “I’m just going to be ready for tomorrow and come ready to play. My focus right now is to be a Longhorn and to win tomorrow.”

The heralded seniors led the way for Texas, but the elders got plenty of help from the rest of the lineup. All nine Longhorn hitters reached base in the game and Thornhill got plenty of help from the guys behind him, including three double plays in the infield.

Sophomore pitcher John Curtiss, who was just named an Academic All-American earlier in the week, closed out the game for Texas, giving up just one hit over the final two innings.

Parker French will get the start for Texas in the second game of the series tomorrow. Game time is set for 1 PM CT at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Texas knocked off Rice 3-2 in 11 innings to remain undefeated in the Houston Regional on Saturday.

Both teams went down in order in the first inning, but the Longhorns threatened in the first. Freshman catch Tres Barrera reached first and advanced to second on an error, but was out at third base after a failed bunt by senior designated hitter Madison Carter.  Carter advanced to second on a failed pickoff attempt, but the Texas hitters were unable to drive him home.

The Owls scored one in the bottom of the first on two hits, but left two on base as junior pitcher Parker French managed to pitch Texas out of a jam.

The Longhorns answered the Owls in the sixth inning, but running errors prevented them from taking control. Sophomore leftfielder Ben Johnson started off the inning with an infield single but he was subsequently picked off by Rice’s ace Blake Fox. That first out was followed by a double by senior centerfielder Mark Payton, that probably would’ve scored Johnson, but extended Payton’s on-base streak to 97 games. Barrera drove Payton home on a double of his own but Texas failed to produce another run.

Rice answered with a run of their own, thanks to a single, a sacrifice bunt and a double that gave them a 2-1 lead.

Texas had an opportunity to tie the game in the seventh inning after freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz reached on a single.  Gurwitz advanced to second on a wild pitch that was right in front of the catcher, but was thrown out at third after being too aggressive. Junior second baseman Brooks Marlow followed with a single that would’ve scored Gurwitz.  Rice rattled off two hits in the bottom of their inning, but junior leftfielder Collin Shaw gunned out the Rice runner at third to relieve the threat.

The Longhorns tied the game in the eighth inning with a Payton double and Barrera single that put runners on the corners with no outs. After Carter struck out, sophomore shortstop CJ Hinojosa drove home Payton on a sacrifice fly that was hit just deep enough to score the run.

Texas nearly scored in the ninth inning after, Marlow pounded a ball that just missed leaving the park, but he was stranded at second.

Texas led off the 11th inning with a double by Gurwitz, which was followed by a Marlow single driving in the run.  Marlow tied a career-high with four hits in the contest.  The Longhorns retired the side in the bottom half of the inning to earn the win.

Junior pitcher Parker French pitched a gem, throwing six and two thirds innings of six hit baseball, allowing two runs. Sophomore closer John Curtiss threw four perfect innings to get the win. 

Texas now waits the winner of the Texas A&M and Rice elimination game. The Longhorns will play at 7 PM tonight.

No. 22 Texas’ outing in Oklahoma City ended Saturday, after the Longhorns surrendered three runs in the eighth inning  for a second consecutive game against No. 11 Oklahoma State, causing them to fall to the Pokes, 6-4.

The Longhorns fell behind 2-0 in the top of the second after a two-run home run by the Cowboys’  rightfielder Connor Costello. Texas struck back with a run in the bottom of the frame, thanks to a single by freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz scoring sophomore shortstop CJ Hinojosa.

The Pokes put up another run with a solo home run to lead off the third and ended Texas’ half of the inning without additional damage.

There was a weather delay of two and a half hours, in the top of the fourth inning, which appeared to give Texas some momentum, as the Longhorns evened the score in the bottom of the inning on a single by senior centerfielder Mark Payton. Payton extended his Big 12 record by reaching base safely for the 95th consecutive game.

Following Payton’s hit, the Longhorns loaded the bases again with one out, but senior designated hitter Madison Carter and Hinojosa both struck out to retire the side.

The Longhorns took the lead in the bottom of the sixth as Payton came through with another RBI, but they were unable to do anything more offensively.

In the eighth, Oklahoma State took the lead back using only one hit.  The Pokes loaded the bases on a walk, being hit by a pitch,  and a sacrifice bunt leading to another walk . They scored on a single and sacrifice fly.

Texas had an opportunity to answer, down 6-4 in the ninth but didn’t take advantage. Poor base running on a Cowboys error led to Texas’ first out of the inning, and the Longhorns ended up grounding out with the potential tying run in scoring position to end the game.

In total the Longhorns left 13 men on base as they struggled to get timely hits. The Longhorns will now be forced to wait to hear about their NCAA Tournament fate.

Freshman infielder Zane Gurwitz grabbed his 13th multiple-hit performance with a 3-for-4 performance Saturday. Though Texas dropped its weekend series against Oklahoma State, Gurwitz led the team to outhit the Cowboys 7-2 in Saturday's 2-1 series win. 

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Despite its rousing applause for seniors Madison Carter, Jacob Felts, Weston Hall, Mark Payton, Alex Silver and Nathan Thornhill before Sunday’s game, the raucous crowd wasn’t enough to save Texas from Oklahoma State’s offense.

The Longhorns fell to the Cowboys 8-3 in Game 3, keeping them three games behind in the Big 12. Oklahoma State struck first with a two-run homer in the top of the second, before chasing Thornhill from the mound after another two-run homer and five runs in the fourth.

Texas looked poised to make a comeback in the bottom of the second when freshman catcher Tres Barrera sent the first pitch he saw over the left field wall to cut the lead to 2-1. But after the five-run outburst in the fourth by the Cowboys, Texas’ only threat came in the ninth on an RBI-double by Payton.

The Longhorns got the series started with a 3-0 victory on Friday night, behind a two-hit shutout from junior pitcher Parker French and sophomore Chad Hollingsworth. Texas outhit the Cowboys 7-2 behind a 3-for-4 performance by freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz, his 13th multiple-hit game of the season.

“He [Gurwitz] provides leadership without saying a word and by his presence on the field,” head coach Augie Garrido said. “He is really a gift. He is a ballplayer through and through.”

The weekend went downhill from there, though, as two losses allowed Oklahoma State to clinch the series 2-1. The Longhorns’ lack of runs was arguably the most disconcerting part of the weekend.

After surrendering just two hits to the Cowboys in Game 1, the Longhorns recorded only two hits of their own in the second game, falling to Oklahoma State 2-1 on Saturday afternoon. Texas jumped ahead early but couldn’t solve the puzzle of the Cowboys’ pitching in a game that mirrored the first. Payton and sophomore outfielder Ben Johnson recorded Texas’ only hits in the
ball game.

“When you lose, it isn’t always because you are bad. Sometimes you lose to the scoreboard — we lost to the scoreboard today,” Garrido said. “They didn’t do much more than we did today. They got on base more and had more opportunities, but we battled our way out with our pitching and defense and played the game pretty darn well.”

Texas will look to rebound Tuesday when it faces Prairie View A&M at home.

Freshman Kacy Clemens makes a play at first base during the Longhorns’ 5-4 win over the Broncos on Tuesday evening. Clemens went 0-for-3 at the plate with a walk, but the top of the Texas lineup led a comeback after it fell into an early hole.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

For more than 3 hours and 30 minutes, the No. 10 Longhorns trailed UTPA at UFCU Disch-Falk Field on Tuesday night. But, in the bottom of the eighth, senior center fielder Mark Payton finally put Texas ahead, singling a run home to give Texas a 5-4 lead — something they would not relinquish. 

Through the first seven innings, the Longhorns left 12 men on base, eight of which were in scoring position. Texas didn’t capitalize on golden opportunities, failing to advance runners on bunts and stranding runners on third with fewer than two outs. But Payton came through in the end to bail out the Longhorns in a game that lasted 3 minutes, 41 seconds. 

“Bottom line is we won the game,” head coach Augie Garrido said. 

Both junior pitcher Lukas Schiraldi and senior UTPA pitcher Matthew Harrell struggled to find their command early, combining for eight walks and a hit-by-pitch in just the first two innings, making the pace of the game a slow one.

The Broncos (17-25) struck first, settling for one run in the first after having the bases loaded with no outs. Schiraldi got an RBI fielder’s choice, pop out and strikeout to escape with little damage. UTPA would have three more innings of one run in the game.

Schiraldi gave up four runs in 3.1 innings, allowing five hits and four walks.

Texas had plenty of chances early because of Harrell’s four walks and one hit-by-pitch in his 1.2 innings, but Texas (31-11) was unable to put a crooked number on the board. It left seven runners on base in the first three innings, scoring only once on a bases loaded, second-inning walk by sophomore outfielder Ben Johnson to cut the lead to 2-1.

Immediately after falling behind 4-1, Texas began clawing its way back with two runs in the fifth to cut the UTPA lead to 4-3 on an RBI single from freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz and a wild pitch. In the next inning, the Longhorns tied the game after Johnson’s fifth homer of the year.

The eighth inning proved the team could claw back. Junior second baseman Brooks Marlow and Johnson singled to start the inning. Then, after failing on his first two bunt attempts, senior center fielder Mark Payton delivered an RBI single to center.

“I was a little frustrated with not getting the bunt down,” Payton said. “I got a pitch I could handle and put a nice swing on it.”

The relief pitchers for Texas did a good job as sophomores pitchers Chad Hollingsworth, Ty Culbreth and John Curtiss and freshman pitcher Morgan Cooper (W, 4-1) went 5.2 shutout innings to give the Longhorns a chance to come back.  

“Momentum shifted with Hollingsworth,” Garrido said. “Pitching drove momentum.” 

The Longhorns will regroup this weekend for a big showdown with Big 12 leader Oklahoma State on Friday.

Sophomore C.J. Hinojosa takes a swing during Texas' weekend series against TCU. The Horned Frogs swept the Longhorns as Texas had flashbacks to last year's struggles. 

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

While the Longhorns didn’t blow their chances at postseason play this weekend, their three straight losses to TCU took them back to last season, if just for those three games.

The Horned Frogs’ pitching dominated Texas (30-11, 9-6 Big 12) last weekend, as the Longhorns tallied only one run in the three-game series. Although TCU boasts one of the best pitching staffs in the country, the lack of runs mirrored Texas’ 2013 campaign when hits didn’t always translate into runs.

The Longhorns notched 17 hits in the three-game series, which makes their one run that much more glaring in the box scores. Head coach Augie Garrido said the weekend served as a measuring stick, as solid pitching is all the Longhorns will see in postseason play. Garrido said TCU was by far the best pitching Texas has seen all year.

“Yes, [the TCU pitchers] distracted them from their hitting plan, and that’s what you saw,” Garrido said. “They started swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. They got disoriented. They have never seen pitching like this.”

Perhaps the only bright spot for Texas over the weekend was senior outfielder Mark Payton, who extended his reached-base streak to 80 consecutive games in Game 3 of the series. Payton tallied three hits over the weekend while sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa led the team with four in the series.

The Longhorns will look to get back on track Tuesday night when they face off with UTPA for the second time this season. In the first meeting between the teams, the Broncs gave Texas everything it could handle before the Longhorns eventually pulled out the 2-1 victory in extra innings.

Payton still leads the team with a .345 batting average, but Texas now has a combined eight hitters with an average of .250 or better, as compared to just four hitters for the Broncs.

As always, the Longhorns will look to their pitching staff, which still boasts a stellar combined ERA of 2.13 despite allowing eight runs last weekend. The Longhorns now sit in third place in the Big 12, three games behind Oklahoma State for first place.

Tuesday’s game, which starts at 6 p.m. at home, gives Texas an opportunity to find its swing again and get its momentum back as it heads into another important conference series this weekend against conference-leading Oklahoma State.