The Longhorns’ season came to a screeching halt late Saturday night, after an incredible run through the NCAA Baseball Tournament ended on a bases-loaded infield single in extra innings. Vanderbilt advances to the Championship Series against Virginia with the win.
Considered underdogs throughout the tournament, especially after lefty ace Dillon Peters went down with an elbow injury before the Houston Regional, the Horns pulled out a gutsy win against Texas A&M to win the Houston Regional, swept the University of Houston in the Austin Super Regional, and took a pair of elimination games against Louisville and UC Irvine to face Vanderbilt.
Though the season is over, there are some bright spots:
- Center fielder Mark Payton is a truly special player, and we were lucky to watch him this year. Beyond his amazing catch that saved a run and helped eliminate UC Irvine, during the tournament, Payton hit the milestone of 101 consecutive games reaching base and was drafted in the seventh round by the New York Yankees. As a senior, he’ll likely trade beautiful Austin for less-than-beautiful Staten Island next spring at the Yankees Short-A affiliate.
- C.J. Hinojosa is looking like a star at shortstop. Besides being automatic in the field, Hinojosa hit safely in every postseason game except one, and blasted the only home run at TD Ameritrade Field so far this tournament, the deciding run against UC Irvine.
- The starting pitching is there. Nathan Thornhill was lights-out during the tournament, showing superior command, and ended up at 9-3 with a 1.51 ERA. Chad Hollingsworth, a sophomore reliever who was thrust into starting duty during the Houston Regional, looks like a gem. He threw a complete-game shutout against A&M in his first-ever college start and pitched another 8 1/3 shutout innings to eliminate UC Irvine in Omaha. Parker French, who looked solid throughout the postseason, struggled with his command against Vanderbilt and was yanked after two innings, but is likely back for his senior season in 2015.
- Relief pitching looked great too. John Curtiss, though he took the loss against Vandy, threw smoke on a consistent basis after missing all of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. No word yet if he’ll leave for the majors, as he was drafted by the Twins in the sixth round. Sophomore Travis Duke gave up one run all season, good for a 0.29 ERA. Freshman Morgan Cooper was brilliant in relief on Saturday night, going 4 2/3 innings and giving up 1 earned run while striking out 5.
- The freshmen did fine, considering the stakes at hand. Sure, Zane Gurwitz misplayed some balls at third, and Tres Barrera and Kacy Clemens had some struggles at the plate, but all three ended up getting key hits for the Longhorns. Rumor has it the Rocket’s son will be back on the mound next season, so his hitting woes could be irrelevant.
- Coach Augie Garrido wants to come back: “I want to be with this group all the way through,” he told the Statesman. “The group is this group of freshmen and the next group of freshmen. Therein lies the challenges for excellence, and I want to be a part of that.” Love or hate his small-ball tactics—the Longhorns led the NCAA in sacrifice bunts in 2014—the results are there. Garrido’s 1,920 victories are the most all-time, and he has won five national championships, including two while at Texas, in 2002 and 2005. He has one year left on his contract, but is apparently looking for an extension.
Congratulations to the Longhorns. It didn’t look like they’d be able to make it this far, but they gutted out some tremendous wins to advance to one win away from the championship series. The Longhorns will be back in 2015—with some talented returning underclassmen and freshman recruits, the winningest coach in NCAA baseball history, and a chip on their shoulders.
Image courtesy Bethany Walter/UT Athletics