Postseason baseball can deliver a unique rollercoaster of happiness, anxiety, sadness, shock and elation all in the span of minutes. And drama. Tonight’s final inning had plenty of drama. After cruising through the Austin Regional in dominant fashion and never playing in anything even resembling a close game, Texas found themselves in a completely different situation to open the Austin Super Regional. As it has done all season, it found a way to win.
A critical component to Texas’ outstanding consistency and success this season has been its ability to respond to adversity and a lineup top-to-bottom capable of providing a huge, game-changing swing of the bat. Stunned by a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning by South Florida (31-29), the Longhorns (46-15) proved their merit immediately in the bottom of the ninth inning when Eric Kennedy delivered a walk-off double to hand Texas a thrilling 4-3 victory.
“We could be talking about how we let that one get away, but we didn’t,” said David Pierce after the win. “So, my job is to get them re-center early and just get their head back down and they’ve been great at that all year. So, I don’t expect anything different. Is it kind of a blessing. Such a mature young team. You’re hearing Trey in the dugout going, ‘Let’s compete. That’s all we do. That’s all we do. Let’s compete.’ And you know, there was not one sign of a guy throwing his glove including Tanner; not one sign of, we let that get away, it’s a tie ball game. It’s just a tribute to the staff, and the players that just pull for each other every single day. We talk a lot about how much more enjoyment it is when it’s about your teammates, and to go out there and watch them celebrate with their teammates is very rewarding.”
Following a very strong performance from Ty Madden, Tanner Witt looked untouchable through his first 1.1 innings of relief. Then, the ninth inning proved problematic for the freshman. Daniel Cantu led off the frame with a solo homer to put USF on the board for the first time Saturday night. Jarrett Eaton kept the inning alive with a two-out double, which brought Drew Brutcher, a tall lefty with some power, to the plate.
In a 3-2 count with first base open and a weak-hitting No. 9 hitter on deck, Texas elected to pitch at Brutcher but did so with a curve. In the previous innings, Witt’s curve racked up ugly swings and misses. The thinking, probably, was bury the hook to try to get a swing and miss or put Brutcher on first with a walk. Unfortunately for Texas and Witt, he hung by far his worst curve of the game and Brutcher demolished it onto Comal Street to tie the game, 3-3.As Brutcher crossed home plate, he had some energetic words for the UT crowd and was greeted by very animated teammates. Meanwhile, the Texas crowd was stunned. But the crowd, like the Longhorns, quickly regrouped.
“We never had a doubt,” responded Madden about the mood of the team after USF tied the game. “This team is special. And I mean… Tanner made two bad pitches. And they made him pay for it… never had a doubt. This team’s gone through a bunch of crazy things this year. And we got a lot of confidence in our pen and our bats. And definitely was crazy, but there wasn’t a split second where I think anyone that dugout thought we were going to lose that game.”
Silas Ardoin reached on an error when his slow grounder was bobbled by shortstop Nick Gonzalez, who to that point played an excellent game defensively. The same couldn’t be said about USF center fielder Roberto Pena. He looked very, very shaky all night even on routine fly balls. The one Kennedy hit at him wasn’t routine, and his read off the bat gave him no chance on a ball he probably didn’t have a chance to catch to begin with.
The left fielder from Tampa, Florida arrived in the batter’s box ready to attack a first-pitch fastball. After the game, Kennedy said something he’s worked on in recent weeks is getting his swing started earlier so he can be on time. He was perfectly on time with a 94 MPH fastball and sent the first pitch screaming towards the deepest part of the park in left-center. With two outs, Ardoin was on the move off the bat and as he neared third, Pierce, with the help of around 7,000 assistant coaches, aggressive waved the UT catcher home…