In the end, the Oxford Super Regional, won by Texas two games to one over Ole Miss, did indeed come down to what many thought it might.
For starters, there was the postseason experience of the Longhorns. Nothing proved to be more important in the big picture all weekend than the way Texas handled adversity - from the dramatic Ole Miss win in game one, to bouncing back in game two to take the victory, to coming back time after time in game three.
And no player signified that more than UT closer J. Brent Cox, who got his 16th and 17th saves of the year in games two and three after blowing the first opportunity of the weekend in a 6-4 UM win in game one.
UT head coach Augie Garrido said, when asked about it Monday night, that his program having "been there" was an absolute key to the Longhorns winning the series and moving on to Omaha for the school's 32nd appearance in the College World Series. He said the Rebels had his team on the run, especially from a pitching angle with Eric Fowler and Stephen Head on the mound.
"I don't think there is any way in the world this team would have turned the momentum around without that experience and maturity. It would have been impossible," said Garrido of the way his ballclub responded in game three. "I don't know if I've seen that done, where it gets away from a team and then they pull it back together the way they did. It was pretty brilliant."
When his team went up 1-0, Ole Miss came back to lead 2-1. And when his team took a 3-2 lead, Ole Miss tied it at 3-3. And then the Longhorns moved out to a 5-3 advantage which would prove to be enough as they ultimately won 6-4.
"We got the lead. They took the lead. We retook the lead immediately, which I thought was a good sign and important for us to do," Garrido said.
Then Garrido, whose 51-16 team plays Baylor for the fifth time this season (the Bears have won all four previous games) in Omaha Saturday, used a bit of veteran coach's savvy and psychology on his team. Just a few words were enough to get them back on track.
"In the fourth or fifth, we struck out four or five times in a row and brought the crowd back into it," he said. "So I reminded our players that there are none and never have been any blind baseball players. So you need to see the ball. We kept trying to hit balls outside the strike zone, and whoever coaches the pitchers (for Ole Miss) did a great job pitching to that. Our players then pulled it back together and regained the momentum of the game. That is very hard to do in an environment like this. I'm especially proud of our team for being able to do that. It shows experience which we have. It shows maturity. It shows self-esteem. It shows confidence. That's what we're all trying to build as we go through our day to day problems that baseball creates for us."
Texas, a sac bunt, small-ball team, had only hit 46 home runs on the season but hit three in three games in Oxford. Ole Miss, the power team of the two, had 80 round-trippers coming in but only Brian Pettway's solo shot to show for it in game one this weekend.
Would anyone paying attention have thought that Texas would have three times as many home runs as the Rebels in the Super Regional?
Still, Garrido's team used its patented sac bunt to full advantage in the finale, moving runners to second base from first base in four different innings. All four scored.
"Tonight it just looked magical for us," Garrido said of his offense. "There are those who will tell you, especially if you look at the internet where it is explained in great detail, how crappy it is to bunt."
Ole Miss, with a school record 48 wins this season, fell one victory short of the program's ultimate dream, a trip to the College World Series, which would be the fifth in school history.
Coach Mike Bianco has been several times as an assistant coach and player. He is still trying to get there as a head coach, now having concluded his eighth season - three at McNeese State and five at Ole Miss.
"The road to Omaha isn't easy," he said. "It's not straight. There's a lot of winding. There's a lot of bumps in it. Any program that's gotten there will tell you that. It's not easy to get there, especially the first time. Playing a team maybe not as good or as seasoned as Texas might have made it easier. But the fact is, and our players knew, that we had to beat someone good anyway. To be at home in front of some great fans, we couldn't have planned it better.
"The fact about our club and the thing I think I'm the most proud of is that this isn't a lucky club. Not that we're unlucky. But this hasn't been a club that's dipped in gold, a club that had a lot of balls fall in or played some teams that were down. It seemed like every team we played every week was hot. It's just one of those things that it hasn't been an easy season, but the kids never made excuses. They played hard from start to finish. They never blamed anything, just went out there and played. And won. And had the best season (48-20) here in 33 years and maybe the best season ever.
"That's why I'm so proud, and as the days and weeks progress we'll all realize what a neat, neat thing these kids did."
Garrido said the shame of it all is that one team's season is over.
"It's too bad there has to be a loser in this," said Garrido, making his 12th appearance in Omaha as a college head coach. "Both teams played at a very high level. The quality of college baseball played on this diamond the last three days is as good as it gets. Either one of these two teams could win the national championship if they got the momentum, which is what it's all about in the College World Series. That becomes a season all its own. I'm just sorry there has to be a loser, and I sincerely mean that. Ole Miss has the kind of team that any Division I baseball program could be proud of."
Texas' experience played big role in series
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