CWS: Horns Hog The Spotlight In 13-2 Rout

The Southeastern Conference ticketed four teams to the 2004 College World Series but top-seeded Texas has sent to Omaha what may turn out to be its finest squad in the history of its storied baseball program. Behind All-American LHP <B>J.P. Howell's </B>dominating performance, the Horns thumped No. 8 Arkansas, 13-2, in the opening round of the CWS Friday. That's one SEC co-champ down, one more co-champ to go. Texas now faces Georgia (8-7 winners over Arizona) at 6 p.m. Sunday.</P>

Howell, a Kansas City Royals first-round draft pick, improved his mark to 15-2 after tossing a season-high 130 pitches in 6-2/3 innings.

"J.P's teammates respect him because they know he's working hard and doing what's right," head coach Augie Garrido said.

Meanwhile, Arkansas starting RHP Charley Boyce suffered just his third loss of the season against 10 wins. The Hogs are to be commended for taking a team picked to finish 11th in what is considered the country's strongest college baseball conference all the way to a co-title and a CWS appearance. Even so, a happy-to-be-here Razorback team displayed the expected opening round jitters while the Longhorns acted as if they owned the place (which, of course, they practically do as Texas extended its NCAA-leading CWS appearance record to 31).

Slugger Curtis Thigpen reached base after all five at-bats (including four hits) and got things started early after he and 2B Seth Johnston led off the bottom of the first with a pair of one-out singles. Boyce loaded the bases after C Taylor Teagarden became his 18th hit batsman of the season. A Carson Kainer walk produced the first run of the game. Boyce then hit DH Dooley Prince for old time's sake to spot Texas a 2-0 lead (probably a blessing in disguise for the Hogs since the JC-transfer had gone 5-for-8 in the post-season entering CWS action). Ryan Russ hit into a double play to temporarily douse the Longhorn uprising, but not before Boyce had thrown 26 balls in the home half of the opening frame.

One inning later, 3B David Maroul became Texas' third hit batsman after Boyce's breaking ball just didn't break enough. (It nearly broke Maroul's shoulder blade, however.) Boyce remained UT's early-game MVP after he mishandled Michael Hollimon's sacrifice bunt allowing the shortstop to reach safely. A wild pitch advanced runners to second and third before Johnston's shot to shallow left-center scored Maroul from third as Texas upped its lead to 3-0. Thigpen followed with a sizzler down the right field line to plate Hollimon for a 4-0 Longhorn lead at the end of two.

Howell kept the Hogs off-balance through four innings, inducing six groundouts and five strikeouts while surrendering just one hit and two walks during that span. The emotional junior struggled in the fifth when he walked 2B Devin Day and LF Jake Dugger. Hollimon's fielding error allowed CF Casey Rowlett to reach first and load the bases with two outs. But Howell worked himself out of the jam when he forced a ground out to end the Razorback threat.

Thigpen opened the bottom of the fifth with his third hit in as many at-bats before he was sacrificed over to second on a Teagarden bunt. Following a Kainer walk, Prince's sizzler up the middle (where else?) scored Thigpen from second but Kainer was thrown out trying to reach third on the first of what would be a series of questionable officiating calls. Prince was picked-off at first to end the end the inning, but not before his RBI single had spotted Texas a 5-0 lead through five.

RHP Daryl Maday took the mound for the Hogs in the bottom of the sixth. Facing the bottom of the Longhorn order, Maday retired the side after issuing a walk. Arkansas finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the seventh when RF Scott Bridges, No. 9 in the batting order, ripped one into the chilly Nebraska night with a two-out, two-strike round-tripper on Howell's 126th pitch. After Howell issued a season-high sixth walk, RHP J. Brent Cox came on in relief to end the frame.

Texas broke this one wide open in the bottom of the seventh. Maday's throwing error allowed Thigpen to reach second before advancing to third on fielder's choice. After Kainer became Texas' fourth hit batsman of the night, the Horns had runners on the corners with two outs. A Prince walk loaded the bases, setting the stage for Russ' two-out double to score two runs. The Horns were coasting at 7-1. But successive walks gave Texas another run and Maday was done.

RHP Caiton Hall entered the contest, only to face Big 12 Freshman of the Year CF Drew Stubbs. Stubbs, whom Garrido said just before the game was the most talented player he has ever coached, drove in two more with his single to left for a 10-1 Texas advantage. Johnston became the tenth horn to bat in the seventh but was robbed of two (probably three runs) after the second base ump credited CF Rowlett with a diving catch that clearly bounced off the grass and into his glove. Even with a nine-run advantage, the call sent an irate Garrido onto the field to give the umps an earful.

"We saw that differently but that's the way it went," Garrido said. "We don't have a TV in the dugout or a walkie-talkie."

Cox walked, and then hit a batter, to start the eighth. 1B Haas Pratt's ground-out put runners on the corners and the Hogs eeked across a second run after officials ruled Texas failed to turn the double-play that would have ended the inning. (Let's just hope Texas also has an eight-run lead should the umps continue to botch calls in Omaha for the second consecutive year.)

But Texas got those runs back in the bottom of the eighth on a pair of triples. Thigpen opened with a stand-up triple after Dugger misplayed his solidly hit shot into left field. After Teagarden took one more for the team, Prince (with the quickest swing of the bat in the Longhorn lineup) launched a base-clearing triple to the center field warning track, extending the Texas lead to a touchdown and field goal at 12-2. Russ' sacrifice fly to left field plated Prince and completed the scoring, 13-2.

Buck Cody was on the mound to close out the win which means, of course, that ace reliever Huston Street is very, very rested for Sunday's pivotal game. A win over the Bulldogs will send Texas into a bracket championship game at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. A loss and the Horns will face an elimination game at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

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