Early in the season, Garrido called this team as good as the 2005 National Championship winning team but as the season progressed the Longhorns proved to be anything but.
Texas entered the Big 12 tournament in fifth place with a 26–25 record. The team failed to win back-to-back Big 12 games since late March against Kansas State. The Longhorns dropped three mid-week games during the season – UT Arlington, Texas A&M – Corpus Christi and Sam Houston State.
But five magical days in Tulsa, Oklahoma at ONEOK Field wiped away all the mire of a once seemingly lost season.
“I never gave up on this team,” Garrido said. “Some people just think I was making it all up. I believed in the champion in these guys from day one. Maybe that's where I didn't act quickly enough to get them back in touch with that champion.”
The Longhorns rode the backs’ of three starting pitchers – senior ace Parker French, junior Ty Culbreth and freshman Connor Mayes to get the Big 12 tournament championship game. The trio was the first to throw three consecutive complete games in the Big 12 tournament.
Texas finished its historic run to the title game with a 6–3 win over the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Sunday.
Sunday’s starting pitcher right hander Kyle Johnston picked up where the other starters’ left off. Johnston worked through five innings of one hit ball before running into trouble in the sixth inning.
“Obviously, the name of the game has always been pitching and that certainly was the name of the game for our team,” Garrido said. “All of the four starters did an excellent job of getting their outs on time, pitching to contact, pitching without fear, showing a purpose on the mound, trusting their teammates behind them and going about their business of playing baseball.”
Texas was able to strike first as it plated the first run of the game in the third inning. Junior left fielder Ben Johnson sparked the inning when he hit a one-out single and moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt by freshman shortstop Joe Baker. Junior shortstop C.J. Hinojosa brought Johnson home with an RBI single to give the Longhorns a 1–0.
Johnston had the Cowboys offense shutdown until the sixth inning. The freshman righty gave up a one-out walk to freshman infielder Jacob Chappell followed by a single from senior outfielder Gage Green in the sixth. The Cowboys tied the game on an RBI single by junior outfielder Corey Hassel.
Oklahoma State loaded the bases in the seventh inning which ended Johnston’s day. The Longhorns called upon French who limited the damage to one run as the Cowboys took a 2–1 lead.
Down a run, the Longhorns offense exploded in the eighth inning. They took advantage of three errors in the inning and scored five runs on two hits. Gurwitz ripped a ball down the right field line for two runs to give Texas a 5–2 lead.
"I have the easy part,” Gurwitz said. “My teammates in the eighth inning they got the bases loaded for me, they tied the game. All I had to do was put the ball in play and I found a hole.”
Freshman Patrick Mathis followed up with his first collegiate hit for an RBI single. Texas exited the frame with a 6–2 lead.
But the Cowboys wouldn’t go down without a fight as they would try to rally in the bottom frame. Oklahoma State loaded the bases in the eighth and was able to score a run. But senior left hander Kirby Bellow entered the game and struck out a batter before inducing an inning ending 5 –4–3 double play.
“I just went out there and trusted myself and focused on the glove and didn't worry about the runners” Bellow said. “I just went out there and tried to do my job."
Bellow and the Longhorns finished the game strong and secured their fifth Big 12 Tournament Championship.
“Today was a moment of glory and a moment of redemption,” Garrido said. “The more difficult the season, the greater the joy of success."
Gurwitz was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He had two hits and two RBIs in the championship game.
Gurwitz, French and Mayes were named to all-tournament team with sophomore catcher Tres Barrera, senior second baseman Brooks Marlow, freshman third baseman Bret Boswell and Baker.
Texas will now await its fate. The Longhorns are guaranteed a spot in a NCAA Regional but where they’ll head is unknown. Some projections have the Longhorns headed to Dallas for Dallas Baptist’s regional or to Baton Rouge for the LSU Regional – LSU is likely to be the No. 1 overall seed. They could also be sent to the Houston regional. There is an outside chance for Texas to travel to College Station for a regional but it’s unlikely as the Longhorns and Aggies were matched in a regional last year.
The team will find out which regional it’s headed to tomorrow at 11 a.m. on the NCAA baseball selection show on ESPNU.
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