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Texas was undefeated in the NCAA tournament entering Sunday night’s game versus the USF Bulls. One win was all that separated the Longhorns from their record 37th appearance in the College World Series.
College baseball’s most storied program would not be denied by the Bulls. Texas won in a manner they have all year with strong pitching, phenomenal defense, a little bit of power, and a response to everything USF could throw at them. A 12-run outburst featuring Cam Williams’ two-run shot to straightaway center and a strong start from Tristan Stevens backed up by Cole Quintanilla and Aaron Nixon sent Texas to Omaha for the second time in the David Pierce era.
“They put in a lot of work,” Pierce said. “We talked about it since day one of keeping our head down and just continuing to try to get better, and just to watch it develop and the growth of these guys has been really rewarding. To now have an opportunity to go compete for a national championship is pretty special.”
Texas heads to TD Ameritrade Park as the highest remaining seed in the NCAA tournament. The postgame celebration at UFCU Disch-Falk Field did not include a celebratory dogpile like that of other Omaha-bound teams. They’re saving that celebration. They have to accomplish something in Omaha in order to do it.
“It’s enjoy it today and back to work tomorrow,” Stevens said. “This team is never satisfied, and we know what we’re capable of. This is just another pitstop on a great journey that hopefully this team can cap off with a national championship.”
The Longhorns return to Omaha after missing the postseason entirely in 2019 and having a promising 2020 campaign cut short after a 14-3 start. In 2018, Texas headed to Nebraska in somewhat surprise fashion and were quickly cut down by two strong SEC teams.
This year, they head north but with goals greater than just being there.
“It’s an expectation you get when you sign to come here,” Stevens said. “It’s an expectation and we try to reach that and overachieve that every year. We know what this university and this tradition is about, and we hope we can deliver that every year.”
Texas trailed following the first inning against the Bulls. But as Pierce’s team seemed to always do in 2021, they kept their composure, responded, and surged back like a team on a mission.
Down 2-0 in the second, Trey Faltine stepped to the plate with two runners on. He turned and squared for a bunt several times, but with a 2-2 count pulled back and slapped a double to right-center to score one. Next at bat, Silas Ardoin doubled on a ball the USF right fielder and second baseman failed to haul in to tie the game.
Eric Kennedy gave Texas a lead it would not relinquish with a hard-hit sac fly to score Ardoin, and Mike Antico grounded out allowing Ardoin to score to make it 4-2. Texas added two more in the third with another Faltine double, this one scoring two. After taking a shot from USF, Texas gave the Bulls a taste of their own medicine and then some.
“They just never shut down,” Pierce said. “They just never give in, and eventually we just wear people down.”
Even when USF scored one in the fourth, Texas responded with two runs in the fifth. Kennedy drew a bases loaded walk, and Antico followed suit in the next at bat to make it 8-3.
Texas wasn’t finished. USF scored in the sixth, but Texas made sure to put the game away in the seventh. Peyton Powell pinch-hit for Ivan Melendez and singled up the middle, slapping a 2-0 fastball past the Bull second baseman to drive in a run.
The game was without fireworks until Williams sent a ball that kept going and going and going until it cleared the center field fence. The 7267 in attendance rose, waited with anticipation, then erupted when the ball was out of Roberto Pena’s reach.
They knew the game was out of hand at that point, and an insurance run in the ninth only made it more of a foregone conclusion that the Longhorns were about to advance to Omaha for the 10th time in the super regional era.
Aaron Nixon recorded a strikeout and a flyout for the first two outs of the ninth after Cole Quintanilla pitched 2.1 no-hit innings in relief of Stevens. With the UFCU Disch-Falk Field crowd on its feet chanting “O-MA-HA” Nixon fanned Julio Cortez to clinch the 37th trip.
“It’s a lot tougher to get to Omaha than people understand,” Pierce said. “The word is thrown around or the city is thrown around like it’s just going to happen. And you see some great teams not make it this week. It’s unfortunate when you put all the work in, but it’s baseball. In baseball you never know what’s going to happen.”
“Our kids are young for the most part,” he continued. “They’re not afraid of anything. They’re not afraid of the work and I’ve never had a team that works so hard for each other. It’s incredible.”
Pierce was understandably emotional following the game. Whenever presented with the opportunity, he would rave about the mental makeup and work ethic his 2021 squad had. They seemed to always have an answer throughout the season after the first three results in Arlington.
Few teams had answers for them, and Pierce always tied it back to the work he saw his team put in on a consistent basis.
“They’re not afraid to fail, and when they have setbacks, they’re not afraid to go back in and try to fix it and try to work on it to get better,” Pierce said. “There’s just so many different ways to describe them, really.”
Without the No. 1 seed in Omaha, Pierce understands attention turns to his No. 2 team considering they’re the highest rated team left in the field. With their ability to win in multiple ways, not just through power and not just through pitching and defense, a tone of confidence entered Pierce’s voice when describing his chances.
“We’ve been very consistent throughout the year, and especially from conference on,” Pierce said. “Just take a look at what they’ve accomplished. At times we’ve been dominating. Then there’s times that we’ve had to figure out different ways to win the game. And that’s special.”
Texas faces the winner of the Starkville super regional in Omaha. Whether it be Notre Dame or Mississippi State, they’re ready to showcase why Texas is a program with 37 College World Series appearances.