"Our team didn't give up in this game," a visibly dejected Augie Garrido said post-game. "I think they fought it out to the end and I think we saw one of the most competitive games in the entire tournament. It was a hard-fought game between two teams for big stakes. That's why we play them. We're excited about our opportunities to play (Sunday)."
Garrido's guys square off against his former club again at 2 p.m. Sunday with RHP Sam LeCure (9-3, 2.39 ERA) charged with keeping the Longhorn's title hopes alive. Expect Titan ace Jason Windsor (12-4, 1.70 ERA) to be on the mound after throwing 48 pitches in three shutout innings of relief Thursday against South Carolina. "If Jason feels good, he'll get the ball tomorrow," Fullerton coach and former Garrido pupil George Horton said.
All in all, it was about as atypical of a night as one could fathom for a Texas team that has been to Rosenblatt Stadium so many times it could have its mail delivered there. Rare is the ballgame when the Horns commit three fielding errors. Rare is the ballgame when starting LHP pitcher J.P. Howell fails to notch the 'W' after his team posts a sixth inning lead. Rare is the ballgame where Big 12 Freshman of the year Drew Stubbs, whom Garrido said is the most talented player he has ever coached, gets fanned in all five plate appearances (never once putting a bat on the ball). Rare is the game where so many of Texas' long balls sailed just wide of the foul line. And rare is the week when ace reliever Huston Street fails to seal the deal in consecutive outings.
The Texas closer made his second straight seventh inning appearance, but unlike vs. Georgia on Wednesday, there would be no magical ending this day. For Street, there wouldn't even be a ninth inning of work for a guy used to recording the game's final out.
After coming on with two on and no outs in the top of the seventh for J. Brent Cox, Street was one pitch away from getting out of the inning with the Horns still on top 4-3. But he left a 2-2 pitch to Danny Dorn "up" and "over the plate", and the Fullerton left fielder drove the ball towards his counterpart in left, UT freshman Carson Kainer. Running hard to his left, Kainer extended to reach the sharply struck ball but it bounced off the neck of his glove, allowing the tying and go-ahead runs to score. Street then gave up an RBI single to DH Felipe Garcia that pushed the Fullerton lead to 6-4. (Garcia was a hitting machine against Texas' heralded staff, going 4-for-5 and is now 11-for-20 in the CWS. In fact, Garcia wasn't retired in this one until there were two outs in the top of the ninth.)
The Horns, though, should have already been back in the dugout, still with the lead. Kainer's miss was a make-able play -- similar to one in the first that he also didn't track down -- that may ultimately be the difference between a championship and Burnt Orange disappointment. The true freshman reflected on the failed seventh inning effort.
"(Dorn had) been flaring off down the line and he had two strikes on him so I came in and he got a good pitch to hit, a fastball, and he hit it well," Kainer said in sometimes halting fashion. "I got a decent jump, I saw it well, I was running hard back after it and it got up in the lights and I stayed with it and I saw it come out of the lights. I can still see the ball. It just hit off my glove and that's part of it. If I catch it I'm the hero, if not..."
Kainer paused just briefly, the final words of the sentence apparently difficult to utter, before finishing with, "It's a tough play to try to make and I think I should have had it most definitely."
Street came to the rhetorical rescue of his frosh teammate.
"If Carson makes that play, it's an amazing play," he said. "That's an amazing catch. It's an unbelievable catch, especially in that situation. He was out there trying as hard as he could and give credit to Danny Dorn for putting a very good swing on a pitch that I didn't get high enough because I was going to come back with a breaking pitch on the next pitch, but that happens."
Credit the Georgia and the Fullerton hitters for his sudden struggles, Street said, before adding that the back-to-back blown saves haven't gotten into his head.
"I want to be out there in those situations," the junior reliever said. "If I fail, that's fine with me. Put me out there again because I can handle the failure. I'll be just as ready tomorrow to go back in there. If it's a one-run game with runners on first and second and nobody out in the seventh, I want the ball."
Early in Saturday's contest, it looked like Street's bullpen mates would be getting earlier than normal work. Fullerton jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, with all the runs unearned following two Texas errors (by Curtis Thigpen and Seth Johnston). Titan 2B Justin Turner singled up the middle, advanced on CF Clark Hardman's bunt and scored when 2B Johnston threw wild to first trying to turn a double play on C Kurt Suzuki's grounder. A sign of things to come, Garcia followed with a two-out, two-run single.
The Horns got on the scoreboard in the second following RF Ryan Russ' two-out single. Texas then grabbed a 4-3 lead with a three-run fifth inning against Fullerton starter Ricky Romero. Russ walked and SS Michael Hollimon reached with a bunt single. Johnston lifted a single into right as RF Bobby Andrews throw home sailed onto the top of the Longhorns' dugout and into the stands. That plated Hollimon to knot the score at 3-3 and put Johnston at third. Johnston scored on a Thigpen sac fly to put Texas on top 4-3.
Fullerton loaded the bases in the sixth with none out but reliever Cox came on and struck out SS Neil Walton. The sophomore hurler then forced as fine of a 1-2-3 double play as you will see in college baseball to work his way out of the jam. Cox, however, would end up saddled with the loss after giving up consecutive singles to open the seventh. Street came on to strike out Suzuki and 1B P.J. Pilittere, but then this one unraveled with Dorn's shot to Kainer.
The Horns brought the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth that saw the Titans use three different pitchers. After Hunter Harris, pinch hitting for Kainer's eighth inning defensive replacement Nick Peoples, took one for the team and RF Ryan Russ chased a high fast ball, Fullerton replaced RHP Vinnie Pestano with LHP Ryan Schreppel. Hollimon (2-for-3) reached safely when SS Walton's fielder's choice throw pulled 2B Turner off the bag. With runners on first and second, every Orangeblood who has followed this team all season had the same thought: Drew is due. But with RHP Mike Martinez on the mound, Stubbs fanned in his fifth straight at-bat.
"If he hits a home run, he's a hero," Garrido said. "There's only one way you can strike out five times. He also has eight home runs and he's won three games for us with home runs. If he hits one of those balls into the seats, then those four strikeouts don't mean much."
Johnston grounded out to send the joyous Californians -- who celebrated almost as if the single title game format remained -- into the Omaha night in search of avocado sandwiches and oxygen bars.
Fullerton is now 46-22 on the year (that's no misprint, folks) but has won 31 of its past 36 games (that's no misprint, either). This is a program that started the season at 8-9 following consecutive losses to Texas last March. Romero (14-4) picked up the win after surrendering all eight Texas hits in 6-2/3 innings of work. The Horns are now 58-14 on the season. A 15th loss will mean a runner-up finish.
But here's another way to look at it: coming in to Saturday's game, Texas needed to win twice to claim its sixth national championship. The Horns can still do that by winning twice, albeit with no margin for error. Championship teams overcome adversity. And adversity this team has got.