Indeed. Score tied. Bottom of the ninth. One out. Runners on first and second. And the top-ranked home team wins in front of a sold-out crowd to raise its record to 36-4 on the season. Crowd favorite Huston Street notched his fourth win of the year after tossing two scoreless innings of relief, while Rice reliever Adam Hale shouldered the loss.
Evidence that this was no ordinary Tuesday game at the Disch was the fact that both squads led with their aces. Texas' decision to start J.P. Howell was prompted only by Rice's decision to go with mammoth Jeff Niemann, a pre-season choice as college baseball's player of the year.
"It's one of those situations when you know they're gunning for you," Street said of Niemann's starting nod.
With both hurlers bringing their best stuff, it remained a scoreless contest until the bottom of the sixth when ump Minard was hit with a Robby Hudson foul ball and taken via ambulance to nearby Brackenridge Hospital. An EMS official reported that Minard was struck in the larynx while Garrido said that, for a few tense moments, some feared that Minard may have suffered a heart attack. The umpire appeared to go into shock, Garrido added, as Minard "lost his color" and "started trembling."
Following the difficult 21-minute delay, Curtis Thigpen doubled with two outs before Taylor Teagarden came through with an RBI single to give Texas a 1-0 lead. The stoppage of play seemed to rattle Owl reliever Josh Baker, who then gave up consecutive walks to Harris, Chance Wheeless and Drew Stubbs to stake the Longhorns to a 2-0 advantage. But Rice loaded the bases with one out on two walks, including one intentional pass, and a base hit in the eighth. That's when a groundout from Adam Rodgers and a two-out balk call plated two scores to knot the game at 2-2.
It's also when Garrido bolted from the bench and tongue-lashed new home plate umpire Tim Henderson. The Texas coach was promptly tossed from what proved to be the most exciting home game of the season.
"We didn't see it (balk) the same way," Garrido quipped. "We discussed it in order to see each other's point of view more clearly. Once we exchanged our gentlemanly hellos, I think we both left the field knowing how we felt about it."
Texas threatened to break the deadlock in the bottom of the eighth by placing runners on second and third with two away, but the Owls worked out of the inning. Street retired Rice in order in the top of the ninth.
Johnston's leadoff double in the bottom of the frame hit the warning track just in front of the center field Green Monster. Thigpen was intentionally walked before Harris came to the plate after a strikeout. On the first pitch, Harris laced a single to right center that sent Johnston home with the winning run and sent the euphoric Texas team streaming from the dugout in celebration.
Although it was the hottest baseball ticket of the season for the Horns, Garrido stopped just short of labeling the intensely played series as a bonafied rivalry. History would prove him correct, as Texas holds a commanding 116-14-1 advantage over the Owls.
"It's not a rivalry in the sense of a university rivalry when your tiddlywinks teams are playing and your tiddlywinks team loses and you fire your coach," said Garrido, who is now 9-7 against the Owls as Texas coach. "What you have here are two quality teams built to win the national championship. If it's a rivalry between two baseball teams, then it's one helluva rivalry."
Despite Texas' series dominance this season, Street said there isn't much that separates the two teams. Just one year ago, Rice won all three games against Texas including two at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha en route to the Owls' first national title in any sport.
"It's just a couple of swings of the bat in a couple of games," Street said. "That's about it. We have just as much respect for them as we did the first game of the season."
Highlighting the offense for Texas was the duo of Johnston and Thigpen, who each collected two hits and scored one run, and four other Longhorns that each tallied one hit, including Teagarden and Harris who each drove in a run.
Up next, the Longhorns travel to Baylor to open a three-game conference series with the Bears on Friday, at 7 p.m. The final two games of that series will be held at Disch-Falk Field on Saturday (6:15 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).