The Longhorns played from behind throughout their postseason run to Omaha, and Sunday was no different. Arizona State blasted a two-run home run in the first inning to grab an early lead, but Texas used a two-run sixth inning and five scoreless innings from its bullpen to top the Sun Devils 4-2 in the third game of the Austin Super Regional. The Longhorns will advance to the College World Series for the 34th time in school history.
“We know how we play with our backs against the wall,” said freshman outfielder Mark Payton. “When they jumped out, we knew we had to answer back.”
The Longhorns answered in the bottom of the frame, with Payton scoring on a RBI groundout from Erich Weiss.
“That’s what this team’s been all about,” said Texas head coach Augie Garrido. “It’s about taking the blows that you have to take in baseball and coming back from them, and that’s what they did.”
Sam Stafford started the game for Texas and was nearly perfect after surrendering the home run in the first. The junior got into trouble in the fourth inning but was bailed out by some peculiar officiating. Arizona State’s Zach Wilson had a full count with Joey DeMichele on first base, and walked as DeMichele tried to steal second. Texas second baseman Jordan Etier missed the pickoff throw from catcher Jacob Felts and the ball bounced into center field, allowing DeMichele to take third base safely. But home plate umpire Scott Cline called batter interference on Wilson, meaning DeMichele had to return to first and that Wilson was out. Garrido came out to argue the call, confused as to why DeMichele could take third after the interference, and had never seen a runner ruled out like that after he was awarded a base on balls.
“You can’t let the runner advance to third if there’s batter interference, that’s about as far as I went with it,” Garrido said. “There’s something else about this rule that prevents that, or we’d be doing it every time.”
The Longhorns had trouble with the officiating as well, taking several called strikes that fell inside a fluctuating zone.
“We let the umpire distract us a bit and you really can’t do that in this game,” Garrido said. “The umpire is the third team. They’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to make calls, its going to be a part of the game, but its up to the two teams involved to be responsible to overcome adversities.”
Brandon Loy tied the game in the fifth inning on a balk from pitcher Mitchell Lambson, and Texas took the lead in the sixth on a single from Payton that scored Tant Shepherd, who doubled the previous at-bat. Loy followed Payton’s hit with an RBI double of his own to put Texas up 4-2. The Longhorns left eight runners on base before rallying in the sixth with three two-out hits to take the lead and push them to Omaha.
“When you have leaders step forward like that, other guys step up as well,” Garrido said of team captains Shepherd and Loy.