With their backs against the wall, the Texas Longhorns did what no other team could do against Tennessee Tech all year: limit the Golden Eagles to fewer than five hits.
Junior Chase Shugart and sophomore Blair Henley combined to stifle the best hitting team in college baseball allowing just three hits. Junior Kody Clemens continued his Golden Spikes-caliber season, driving in half of Texas’ runs in a 4-2 victory. The win forces a game three Monday afternoon to decide who will advance to the College World Series.
Shugart was masterful in his performance and limited the Golden Eagles to just two hits. With Henley giving up one hit, a solo home run on his first pitch to TTU’s David Garza in the seventh, the Longhorns held TTU two hits under their previous season low of five.
Being overmatched by pitching isn’t something Tennessee Tech is used to. Tech head coach Matt Bragga described the Ohio Valley Conference as the “Big 12 of baseball” with the prolific offenses throughout the league. Shugart was not able to notice a difference in the Golden Eagle approach to hitting.
“I feel like they stuck with their approach pretty well. I didn’t notice any guys going up there and just swinging for the fences and trying to switch anything up. They’re approach is really solid and that’s what makes them a good hitting team.”
He was given an early lead to work with after Clemens doubled to bring in sophomore David Hamilton. That lead was extended after sophomore Ryan Reynold’s blooper snuck past a diving Collin Harris in left, allowing senior Jake McKenzie to score.
Tennessee Tech cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second. A rushed throw from Clemens in an attempt to turn a double play was wide of McKenzie at first, allowing a runner to score on the throw.
Though that cut the lead in half, Shugart continued to pitch confidently and with emotion. He retired TTU in order in the third. He pitched through a small self-created two-out jam in the fourth, ending the inning with a fly out to center. The fifth was just like the third.
His sixth and final inning was like the fourth. He walked the first batter, struck out the next, and walked the following batter putting cleanup hitter Chase Chambers at the plate.
Chambers flew out to left on the first pitch of the at bat, and after a seven pitch battle with Trevor Putzig, sophomore Duke Ellis ranged to make a play to end the frame.
Shugart, as usual, let all 7151 in attendance see his emotion.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on, if we don’t feed off the emotion we’re dead the whole time and there’s nothing going on,” Shugart said. “If we feed off of emotion that makes us better and that makes us competitive.”
Clemens hit a solo home run in the third, but Texas looked for additional runs against the Golden Eagles. TTU ace Travis Moths pitched well, but was overshadowed by Shugart’s Sunday.
He had a chance to exit the game trailing 3-1 in the seventh. With two outs, Duke Ellis came to the plate.
Ellis was hitless entering the at bat, and hadn’t shown a penchant for clutch hitting throughout the year. Down 1-2 in the count, Ellis singled straight up the middle bringing in Texas’ fourth and final run.
“I just stick to a game plan,” Ellis said. “That’s what I’ve been doing all day. I was a tick behind balls all day and I made an adjustment at the at bat. It was just a big time hit.”
After the seventh-inning stretch, Pierce made the decision to bring Henley into the game. His reasoning as he explained postgame was so his next-best pitcher wasn’t left waiting on a game three that would never come if Texas didn’t win Sunday.
The start was shaky with his first pitch resulting in Garza’s home run. After that, he retired the final nine hitters.
“We had an opportunity to win and we went for it,” Pierce said. “Plus, he gives Parker Joe [Robinson] and Josh [Sawyer] some rest. I knew he was fresh, I knew his stuff would play and it was the right decision for us.”
Texas played with plenty of emotion for the entire game. Shugart exuded it on the mound, and Clemens let it show following his 23rd home run of the season. Like in the regional against Texas A&M, he stared down the Tennessee Tech dugout with a hook ‘em horns extended toward them as he ran from third to home.
Henley isn’t as emotional as Shugart on the mound, but even he gave a fist pump walking off the mound in the eighth.
Playing with emotion in baseball is difficult to manage. It may be advantageous to have that additional motivation, but it’s not a sport where the best performances come from harder swings, harder throws, or clinched teeth.
It’s a sport where a focus on technique and situation are the most valuable, and Pierce tried to relay that message to his team.
“For us, we want to control our emotions but we don’t want to be emotional,” Pierce said. “When there’s something that happens in the course of a game, I love for our guys to get excited but then regroup and understand it’s one play let’s move on.”
Pierce wouldn’t tip his hand as to who would start tomorrow despite being asked several times in several different ways. He didn’t rule anyone out from appearing on the hill.
“Everybody is available,” Pierce said. “It may be one hitter but everybody is available if they want to try to go to Omaha, and that’s kind of the plan.”
The deciding game three is Monday at noon. Tennessee Tech will start left-hander Alex Hursey.