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For the first time since 2011, the Texas Longhorn baseball team is headed to the Super Regionals. The Horns knocked off Texas A&M (twice) and Rice to win the Houston Regional this past weekend. Texas will get to host The University of Houston in a best-of-three series this weekend with the winner moving on to the College World Series.
The Longhorns entered the Houston Regional as the No. 2 seed and were matched up with long-time rival Texas A&M in the opening game at Rice’s Reckling Park. The Horns cruised to an 8-1 win over the Aggies in the teams’ first ever matchup in postseason play. Starting pitcher Nathan Thornhill went seven strong innings for the Longhorns, allowing just one run while striking out seven.
The Texas offense was on fire early in the game and provided more than enough run support to give Thornhill the victory. Second baseman Brooks Marlow led off the bottom of the first with a solo homerun to get the scoring started. Marlow went deep on the 8th pitch of the at bat after falling down 0-2 against A&M starter Daniel Mengden. Ben Johnson, the next batter, reached on an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error. Senior Mark Payton drove him home with a RBI single to give UT a 2-0 lead after the opening frame. After the Aggies put up a run in the top of the second, Texas responded with a run of its own when CJ Hinojosa singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on two wild pitches from Mengden. The offensive exploded in the third, putting up another four runs to chase Mengden and push the lead to 7-1. Texas had four hits in the inning, including RBI singles from DH Madison Carter and RF Collin Shaw and a two-run double from Hinojosa. Shaw added another RBI single in the 8th to increase the gap to seven. With the win, Texas coach Augie Garrido improved to 12-2 in regional openers over his storied career at UT.
On Saturday night, the Longhorns squared off against tournament host and top-seeded Rice. The double-elimination format of the tournament made this a crucial game for the Horns. The Owls took a 1-0 lead in the second but Texas starter Parker French was able to limit the damage and went to pitch a gem. French went 6.2 innings allowing a couple of runs on six hits. The Longhorns put up their first run in the sixth inning, when catcher Tres Barrera doubled off the wall in left-center to bring home Mark Payton. The Owls, however, responded with a run in the bottom of the inning to regain their one-run lead. Texas came back from its second one-run deficit of the night, and tied the game in the 8th inning. Payton led off with a double and Barrera moved him over to third with a single up the middle. CJ Hinojosa hit a sacrifice fly to score Payton and knot the game up at two. The Longhorns had a few golden opportunities to take the lead, and finally went on top in the 11th inning when leadoff man Brooks Marlow drove home Zane Gurwitz with an RBI single after Gurwitz, the nine-hole hitter, doubled. Texas held on to win 3-2. The biggest star for the Longhorns didn’t even enter the game until the 8th inning. Closer John Curtiss pitched four perfect innings in relief, earning a well-deserved second victory of the season. Curtiss struck out four and faced the minimum in the outing. The game ended at 1:12 a.m. on Sunday, and the win improved Texas’s extra-inning record to 5-0 on the season.
The Longhorns were back at it on Sunday night, squaring off against A&M for the second time in three days. The double-elimination tournament meant the Longhorns had two chances to eliminate their bitter rivals from the all-powerful SEC. After combining for 25 hits in the first two games of the regional, the Horns were stymied by Tyler Stubblefield, who went the distance for the Aggies. Texas was held to just two runs on four hits, and fell 3-2. Longhorn starter Lukas Schiraldi struggled with his command, walking four in just 3.1 innings of work. Texas led 1-0 and 2-1, but was unable to score after the third inning. Not only did the Texas offense not score, the Horns were held hitless over the final six innings of Sunday’s game. Despite the wishes of Stubblefield and his Aggie teammates, the Longhorns had another chance to bounce A&M and win the regional on Monday.
The Longhorns and Aggies were meeting for the 370th time in program history, but this one may have been the biggest matchup of them all. In fact, the two teams set a Reckling Park record, bringing in an attendance of 6,825 people. The Aggies struck in the top of the first inning, thanks to an unearned run off of spot starter Chad Hollingsworth. The Longhorns responded in the bottom of the frame with an unearned run for themselves, when Tres Barrera singled home Brooks Marlow, who reached on a throwing error to lead off the game. Hollingsworth, making his first start of the season, settled down and went to work on the A&M lineup. After a leadoff walk in the second, the sophomore from Waco retired the next ten Aggie hitters. Hollingsworth, who texted pitching coach Skip Johnson asking to start Monday’s game, went on to pitch a complete game, two-hitter. Neither of A&M’s hits left the infield, and five walks were the only reason Hollingsworth ever ran into trouble. Making his first start since March 26, 2013, Hollingsworth didn’t allow a run for the final eight innings of the game and confused the Aggie lineup all night long. The Longhorns took a 2-1 lead in the 4th, when Zane Gurwitz reached on an error, scoring Madison Carter. Both teams struggled defensively, combining for five errors and countless mental mistakes. The Longhorns had some great opportunities to score early on, but left ten men on base over the first six innings. It almost seemed as though Texas wasn’t meant to win, but the Horns were finally able to capitalize with runners on base and extended their lead in the 7th. CJ Hinojosa doubled home Mark Payton to make it 3-1 and Collin Shaw hit a sac fly to score Madison Carter and stretch the lead to 4-1. Hollingsworth’s 128th pitch induced a pop-up to third baseman Zane Gurwitz, who secured the ball and a Longhorn trip to the Super Regionals.
With the victory, Texas improved its record against A&M to 242-123-5. Hollingsworth and Payton were named Co-Most Outstanding Players of the regional. Payton had an OBP of .500 over the four games and extended his Big 12 record streak of games reaching base to 99.
The Longhorns found out early on Tuesday that they would be hosting a Super Regional at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. The Horns will square off against the Houston Cougars, who upset the No. 8 national seed LSU in the Baton Rogue Regional over the weekend. The best-of-three series begins Friday at 3 p.m.