Longhorns look legit
In quest for 7th title, Texas brimming with confidence
OMAHA, Neb. — Texas is making its record 37th appearance in the College World Series and, unlike the last time it was here in 2018, coach David Pierce believes this team has the makings to be national champion.
The Longhorns (47-15) went 5-0 through their regional and super regional for the first time since 2004 and are the highest remaining national seed at No. 2.
“Going in there this year, there’s never been any thought of, ‘Hey, we made it to Omaha,’ ” Pierce said. “The only thought we’ve had is, ‘It’s the next step. We’re going to Omaha to win this thing.’ ”
“Now, whether we’re good enough and the pieces fall into place, you’ve to have a little luck, you’ve got to stay healthy, it’s just got to work out. You’ve got to calm your nerves.”
The CWS returns, with fan capacity at 100%, after the 2020 season was shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Play begins Saturday with No. 9 Stanford (38-15) taking on unseeded North Carolina State (35-18) in the afternoon and reigning national champion and No. 4 Vanderbilt (45-15) facing No. 5 Arizona (45-16) at night. Games Sunday match No. 3 Tennessee (50-16) against unseeded Virginia (35-25) and the Longhorns against No. 7 Mississippi State (45-16).
Texas has been at the CWS four times since it won the last of its six national titles in 2005.
The 2018 team was led by Kody Clemens’ 24 home runs and a strong defense but the pitching wasn’t elite. That club went two games and out.
Only four players from the ’18 team remain on the roster for a team whose batting order lists four freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and a senior.
“I think that team really overachieved in ’18,” Pierce said. “We pieced the pitching together and it did well but it wasn’t what our pitching is now. And I think when you go to Omaha and you feel confident because your starting pitching gives you an opportunity, it’s a different feeling.”
Texas has one of the nation’s top starting rotations in sophomore Ty Madden, junior Tristan Stevens and redshirt freshman Pete Hansen. All three have sub-3.00 ERAs, and the staff leads the nation at 2.89.
There’s no shortage of strong starting pitching in the field. Madden is projected to be a top-10 pick in the MLB draft, as are Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player Kumar Rocker.
Stanford’s Brendan Beck is the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, and Cardinal No. 2 pitcher Alex Williams threw a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts against Texas Tech in super regionals.
The Chad Dallas-led Tennessee staff has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.7-to-1, which is best among the eight teams in Omaha and No. 2 nationally. Virginia’s Andrew Abbott has struck out 152, four behind national leader Leiter and three behind Rocker.
Mississippi State leads the nation with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, with Will Bednar and Christian McLeod having combined for 226 in 154 innings.
Arizona has the top all-around offense. The Wildcats average 8.6 runs per game, bat .329, lead the nation in doubles and triples, and have homered 14 times in their last eight games.
“We’re not going to be pigeonholed into any type of game,” Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said. “Somebody’s got to pitch and play well to hold us down.”
Vandy-Vols rivalry: A showdown between Tennessee and Vanderbilt with a national title on the line would have all the emotions of their rivalry bubbling up like a family brawl.
The schools separated by 194 miles are on opposite sides of the bracket, so a championship matchup is possible.
“It creates energy inside of this state for 8, 9, 10, 11 year old that looks up and see Tennessee on TV, Vanderbilt on TV, and it inspires kids to want to play, and that’s all that matters,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said.
His Commodores are the reigning champs, and Corbin said he’s happy Tennessee is among the three SEC teams in Omaha. Corbin said he knew after his Commodores took the lone series between the teams 2-1 in April that the Vols would reach Omaha.
Tennessee’s Tony Vitello was named the coach of the year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Vitello led the Vols to the CWS for the first time since 2005 while reaching the 50-win mark for the first time since 1995.