Baseball

Miss. State 4 Texas 3: Longhorns fall short of CWS finals, ending a strong season in heartbreaking fashion

Texas had its back against the wall against Tennessee, Virginia, and Mississippi State after losing its opening game in the College World Series. For three straight games the Longhorns fought back, forcing one more game against the Bulldogs with a spot in the championship series on the line.

In a back-and-forth affair, the game entered the ninth inning tied 3-3. Texas put the go-ahead run in scoring position in the top half, but couldn’t drive it in.

Where the Longhorns failed, the Bulldogs succeeded. After a tremendous outing, Cole Quintanilla fired a backfoot slider with one out in the ninth inning that lived put to its name against Kellum Clark. The Bulldog left fielder reached on the HBP, Brayland Skinner pinch-ran for him, stole second, and scored the winning run when Tanner Leggett drove him in with a single to center.

Mississippi State won 4-3, ending the Longhorns’ season after 57 games, a national semifinals appearance, and a share of the Big 12 championship.

“Those guys will be a part of my life the rest of my life,” Texas head coach David Pierce said of his team. “So other than saying good-bye from a team of 27 to whatever we have total, that’s the tough part. You just want to keep doing it. You really do. You want to just keep doing it with these guys. But I think those guys will always be a part of the rest of my life. I hope so. I hope they feel the same.”

Entering the ninth inning, Quintanilla dominated Bulldog hitters. He relieved starter Tristan Stevens in the sixth inning and issued a leadoff walk to load the bases with nobody out. He forced a 5-2 groundout for the first out, struck out Clark for out No. 2, then caught Josh Hatcher looking to escape the jam.

“You know, I just went out there and tried to leave it all out on the line for my brothers,” Quintanilla said. “Just doing everything I can to keep us in the game and everything I had, just leave it out there.”

From that point on, he buried Bulldog hitters until he reached the final inning. Texas had several chances to back up Quintanilla’s longest outing of the 2021 season in the later innings, but they failed to plate a run against Bulldog reliever Landon Sims.

Sims earned the win and advanced State to its second ever College World Series finals. Over 2.2 innings, he struck out four in relief of Will Bednar. Sims’ only blemishes were a wild pitch and a hit batsman.

Bednar wasn’t as dominant as he was in the opening game of the CWS, allowing a two-run homer to Cam Williams in the second and an RBI double to Mike Antico in the fifth. Still, he baffled Texas hitters once again with a strong mix of his slider and fastball, striking out seven and only walking two while allowing four hits.

Texas starter Tristan Stevens went 5.0 innings in his start on three days rest. He allowed nine hits and three earned runs, walking one and striking out two before being replaced by Quintanilla in the sixth.

The season ends short of where Texas said it wanted to finish; as the No. 1 team in the country. Short, just like several fly balls off the bats of Longhorn hitters ended on the warning track instead of over the fence throughout the course of the game.

“We hit four balls to the wall that any of them could have been out or all four of them could have been out,” Pierce said. “We played impeccable defense the entire series, and big-time pitches in big-time moments, and the defense played their tails off. And so I always look at every single day as no regrets, and there’s zero regrets.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 season with a team Pierce repeatedly stated his love for, the opportunity to coach the 2021 Longhorns was one he relished every single day. The fact the ride is over was one of the first things he mentioned after the game.

“The only thing that I’m disappointed in is this team will no longer be this team anymore, and it’s the most incredible team I’ve ever been a part of,” Pierce said. “And I’ve won a National Championship and been here now six times.”

“But just when you talk about culture and you talk about standard, and you talk about all those buzzwords and then you go out and watch it happen and just get inspired by young people; young people are constantly being talked about of how they weren’t like us back in the day.”

“This group is incredible,” he said.

This Longhorn team was the first since 2010 to record 50 or more wins, joining 24 other burnt orange squads in that club. What they exhibited was similar to what those other storied Texas teams put on display regularly.

“The grit, the toughness, the never-give-up mentality, the energy,” Pierce mentioned. “Just the talent. There’s just so many words that you describe this group, and they are all positive.”

Day in and day out, they performed in a manner that caused their head coach to constantly heap praise upon them. Even at the end of the road, Pierce couldn’t stop talking about his 2021 Longhorns.

“We had zero issues,” Pierce said about his team, referring to their on- and off-field actions. “I mean, it’s just a team that has really set the standard of what we expect at the University of Texas.”

They fell just short of their national title goals but lived up to where Pierce expects his program to operate. Even more so than the team that helped make his last trip to Omaha happen. Going forward, the 2021 Longhorns did something his other teams need to beat, according to Pierce.

“Our 2018 team was good, but this group has started that true standard that we’re looking for,” Pierce said.

Cover photo courtesy of the NCAA