Survive... and Advance?

OMAHA, Neb. - - Whatever your version of weird is, scratch it out and insert Texas' half of the first inning on Friday for future reference.

The Longhorns managed to strike out three times in a win-or-go home game against Vanderbilt at TD Ameritrade Park, but still found themselves up 2-0 thanks in part to second base umpire Mark Uyl.

Yes, second base umpire Mark Uyl.

He'll surely sport a bruise on his backside for the next couple of days after he was pegged by a C.J. Hinojosa line drive with the bases loaded and one out. Had he not been in the way, Vanderbilt could have turned an inning-ending double play and escaped a bases-loaded, no-out situation unscathed.

Instead, Hinojosa was credited with a dead-ball RBI single.

The Longhorns went on to add another run in the inning, scored two more in the second and used another overly dominating performance by starter Nathan Thornhill to defeat the Commodores 4-0.

A rematch will take place at either 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. CT on Saturday with the winner advancing to Monday's best-of-three championship round against either Ole Miss or Virginia. If Virginia loses tonight then Texas will likely play at 2 p.m.

"We knew we needed to score more runs there," Texas centerfielder Mark Payton said. "Obviously that ball went in our favor and the rule is the rule. It got us off to an early lead, which we like."

From that point forward it was all about Thornhill, who threw eight innings of shutout ball on 131 pitches. He allowed six hits, struck out five and walked one to improve to 9-3 overall.

"The game was dominated by Nathan on the defensive side with good support from his teammates," Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. "We showed good patience early in the game and took our walks. We would have liked to have had more out of that rally but glad to get the two, and then the two in the second inning as well. From there on it was pitching and defense."

Thornhill was two innings away from leading Texas into the winner's bracket of the CWS against UC-Irvine on June 14. But his scoreless innings streak was snapped at seven after the Anteaters tagged him for two runs in the eighth in a 3-1 loss.

That defeat snapped his two-game win streak in the NCAA Tournament (wins over Texas A&M and Houston).

He gave everything he had in what pitching coach Skip Johnson and Garrido both believe was his last pitching performance in a Texas uniform.

"This is who he is. This is why he came back," Garrido said. "He doesn't lead by telling people what to do. He leads by doing it. He leads by example. He's committed. He's committed to the baseball program. He's committed to Austin. He's all in, man. He's a first class citizen."

A first-class citizen, with first-class off-speed pitches and pinpoint accuracy is Thornhill. He kept Vanderbilt from ever getting a runner to third base. He held Vanderbilt's first two hitters – Dansby Swanson and Bryan Reynolds, who were both hitting .341 – to a combined 1-for-8 with two strikeouts.

"You have to give some credit to Thornhill," Vanderbilt coach Tim Condin said. "That ERA is low for a reason (dropped to 1.51 with the win). You have to give a lot of credit to that kid."

Vanderbilt, on the other hand, chose to rest ace Carson Fulmer (7-1, 1.88) with hopes that he could start Game 1 of the championship series and went with No. 3 starter Tyler Ferguson instead.

The book on Ferguson, who entered with an 8-3 record and 2.51 ERA, was that he has ace stuff when on, but gets incredibly flustered when he's off. It became clear early that he'd be the latter on Friday after he pegged Brooks Marlow with his first pitch, walked Ben Johnson on four straight pitches and then hit Mark Payton to load the bases in the first.

He struck out Tres Barrera before Hinojosa walked to the plate and tagged a line drive up the middle that Uyl had no chance of avoiding.

The official ruling comes from Rule 6, Section 2, Section F, which states that if "A fair-hit ball touches an umpire before touching a fielder and before passing all infielders, other than the pitcher…The ball is dead and the batter is awarded first base with a single. Runner(s) advance if forced."

Because all runners were force runners, Marlow was awarded home, which gave Texas a 1-0 lead.

"It could have but it may have been a tough double play too," Corbin said. "That's just anyone's guess. He just has to work on his agility a little bit so he can move. I don't know what would have happened had the ball gone by him. We ma have gotten a break I don't know. But there's nothing we could do about that."

Ferguson got Collin Shaw to strikeout for the second out of the inning but walked Madison Carter to plate another run for UT. He was pulled in favor of junior right-hander Brian Miller, who did a more than adequate job in 7 1/3 innings of relief. He just wishes he could have that second inning over again.

That second frame didn't have the same level of weird as the first but it was awfully close and just as productive for the Longhorns.

Zane Gurwitz led off by roping a triple over the head of left fielder Bryan Reynolds, who slipped trying to back track for the ball.

That was followed up by a triple from Marlow, who laced a singing line drive just under the outstretched glove of right fielder Rhett Wiseman, to make it 3-0.

"Those two plays in the outfield, those balls were both sinking," Garrido said. "They weren't as easy or routine as some might think. But it happened and we were able to capitalize."

Mark Payton then laid down what appeared to be a delayed squeeze with one out that got Marlow home for a 4-0 lead. But the official scorer ruled it a sacrifice bunt with an error on Miller, who dropped the ball upon applying the tag on Payton at first base.

Mass confusion seemed to fill the ballpark by that time but the end result was all that mattered to Texas, which rode Thornhill to another victory. He used just 10 pitches to get through the fifth and needed only nine to complete the sixth.

There was never any doubt in Johnson's mind to keep Thornhill in the game in the eight with his pitch count nearing 120 and Vandy's leadoff runner on first.

"When I walked to the mound I told him ‘You are made to do this. Use your legs. This is what you've worked all year long for. Just focus on the mitt. The game is between you and the mitt,'" Johnson said.

Thornhill focused in and got out of the inning before he handed the ball over to John Curtiss, who made quick work of the Commodores in the ninth.

"I think he was expanding the plate pretty well," Condin said of Thornhill. "To me he was utilizing the zone and good for him. That was smart. When you chip the ball up in the air there's not much you can do. You can't applaud fly balls here and we hit plenty of them today."

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