Texas advances to face No. 5 national seed Mississippi at the NCAA Super Regional in Oxford this weekend for the right to play in the College World Series. Game times and pairings will be announced 11 a.m., Tuesday, on ESPN.
"We hadn't really captured a championship this entire season," head coach Augie Garrido said, "and we have a championship-type team. You have to start somewhere, and this is a place where you must start. My hope is that this will give us the confidence it takes to move through the other two championships that are available."
No small part of the reason why Texas won a championship on Monday was because it won the arms race on Sunday. The Hogs used five pitchers in Sunday's loss to Texas while Garrido had the luxury of relying Monday on a couple of well-rested hurlers in ace Kyle McCulloch and closer J. Brent Cox (who's got the stuff to give Texas four or five solid innings every outing).
It was sweet redemption for McCulloch who picked up the win for two innings of work and after getting shelled Saturday against the Hogs. The sophomore raised his overall mark to 10-4 while Cox recorded a team-leading 15th save of the season. In what was one of the guttiest performance by a Texas opponent all season, RHP Charley Boyce (3.51) shouldered the loss after pitching eight innings on Friday and throwing 121 tosses in eight innings of work Monday. Freshman RHP Kenn Kasparek (1.94 ERA), the Horns' most consistent pitcher the past month, drew his second starting assignment of the postseason and last 4-1/3 innings, surrendering just one earned run.
But it was Teagarden's sixth inning shot that gave Texas the lead for good.
"He kept the ball down-and-in," Teagarden said of Boyce. "He was giving us fits for the first few innings. His approach was like he was trying to get ahead of every hitter so I went to the plate realizing that I probably was going to see a strike early in the at-bat. Basically, he elevated a fastball (in the sixth) and I put a pretty good swing on it and got it up in the air. The way the ball's been carrying this weekend (with gusty, southwesterly winds) if you hit a ball like that, it's probably going to leave the yard."
Arkansas, at 39-22, is done for the year while the Horns lives to see another day with a 49-15 mark. It was Texas' fifth NCAA Regional title in six seasons but marked the first time a Garrido team had to battle from the loser's bracket to reach the post-season's second round.
Longhorn batters swatted 15 hits on the day, as Teagarden, 1B Chance Wheeless and 2B Robby Hudson each tallied three hits in four appearances. The Hogs mustered five hits and committed two errors in dropping their second straight to the Horns.
After the two teams split a pair of weekend blowouts, the law of averages (plus an extremely liberal strike zone) dictated that Monday's rubber match would be a low-scoring affair. The Hogs took an early 1-0 lead and the Horns never got much separation from their former Southwest Conference rivals until Teagarden's sixth inning blast. Wheeless followed in the next frame with a solo shot of his own.
"Coming out today, I definitely felt like the momentum was on our side the whole time, even with them getting an early lead," Teagarden said, after Texas won three straight since falling to Arkansas Saturday night. "Any team that can come out of the losers bracket and win a championship, that's about as difficult as it gets."
CF Craig Gentry's leadoff double dropped into shallow left in the opening frame. He out-hustled Carson Kainer's toss for the extra bag and then advanced to third on DH Ben Tschepikow's groundout. LF Clint Arnold went down swinging on the high fastball. 1B Danny Hamblin, hitting .417 in the Regional, drove Kasparek's breaking ball into left field to get the Hogs on the scoreboard first with an RBI single. After walking RF Jake Dugger, the freshman forced a SS Scott Hode ground out on a 3-2 pitch to end the inning. The Hogs led, 1-0, with Texas taking their first at-bat.
"The first guy was aggressive on the base paths and he just took a double right off the bat," Kasparek said. "They executed that pretty well. They got that runner across. All I could do was battle back out there."
The book on Kasparek is that he usually settles down by the third inning. In the Razorback second, 3B Clay Goodwin drew a one-out walk before 2B Brian Brock took a called third strike on a breaking ball. Gentry's grounder to third resulted in a routine force-out at second to send the Hogs back to the dugout. In the home half of the second, DH Will Crouch lined a two-out single up the middle for Texas' first hit of the ballgame before Teagarden sent a high breaking ball into left field. But Boyce fanned 3B David Maroul to strand a pair of Longhorn baserunners.
Tschepikow reached on a leadoff single and advanced on Arnold's sacrifice bunt. Following pitching coach Tom Holliday's first trip to the mound, Hamblin took a called third strike for the second out. Dugger's groundout ended the Razorback threat.
"He showed very few signs of being anything other than really aggressive, inside and outside the strike zone," Garrido said of Kasparek.
Hudson's infield single to deep short gave the Horns a leadoff base runner in the bottom of the third. After RF Nick Peoples moved Hudson to second on a sacrifice bunt, CF Drew Stubbs' groundout to the right side moved Hudson to within 90 feet of home plate. But SS Seth Johnston went down swinging on a 1-2 pitch to leave a Longhorn in scoring position for the second straight inning.
C Brian Walker reached first base following his sharply hit shot to third. With Goodwin at the plate, Peoples came up with as outstanding of a diving catch as you'll see at any level of baseball. Walker stood helplessly at second base as Peoples turned the double play with a casual toss to first. The highlight reel defensive stop energized the Longhorn offense and the partisan Burnt Orange crowd of 4,481.
"You could definitely look back on that as the turning point in the game," Teagarden said. "It really paid off."
Wheeless extended his hitting streak to a career-best eight games with a leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth. LF Carson Kainer failed to bunt Wheeless over in his first two attempts but reached on Goodwin's fielding error at third. With runners on the corners and no outs, Texas' hottest hitter in the Regional came to the plate. Crouch responded with his 12th hit (in 19 at-bats this weekend) when his line drive into center field knotted the affair at 1. Teagarden, showing bunt, drew back and sent a towering shot into center field for the deep out and moving Kainer to third. Kainer was picked-off third, but the inning stayed alive when Boyce pegged Maroul in the back to put runners on first and second with two out. That's when Hudson gave Texas its first lead of the day with his double into left field, scoring Crouch. A what-could-have-been inning ended with a 2-1 Longhorn margin when Maroul was thrown out sliding into home.
McCulloch came on in relief of Kasparek in the top of the fifth after the freshman issued a one out walk to CF Craig Gentry. The Hogs tied the game when they manufactured a run on no hits thanks to Gentry's steal and Teagarden's throwing error. The E2 allowed Gentry to take third and then score on Tschepikow's groundout. Johnston's first hit of the day came on a two-out single in the home half of the frame while Wheeless followed with a base hit to left field. But Kainer was fanned on three pitches to leave the score deadlocked, 2-2.
It was a one-two-three inning for the Hogs, setting the table for Teagarden's latest heroics. With one down in the bottom of the sixth, the junior absolutely crushed his third round-tripper in as many games with a one-out rocket over the left field wall. The Horns grabbed a 3-2 lead and looked for more beginning with Maroul's single to right. Peoples, looking for his first hit of the contest, hammered a two-out single into center field. But a hitless Stubbs took a called third strike as the Razorback strike zone got wider with each passing frame.
McCulloch may be the pitching ace but Texas' "trump card" Monday, according to Garrido, was Cox. Cox made his first appearance of the Regional in the top of the seventh, resulting in leadoff hitter Brian Walker line drive up the middle. Goodwin flew out to center before PH John Marquardt became Arkansas second hit-batsman of the game. Gentry flew out to shallow right, bringing the DH to plate. Tschepikow sent an 0-2 pitch into right-center, setting up a near-collision between Stubbs and Peoples. The seventh-inning stretch became a seventh inning sigh of relief for Orangebloods as Peoples talked his second clutch catch of the contest.
By now, Boyce had thrown nearly 120 pitches in a performance that Garrido labeled as "brilliant."
"It was really a courageous effort," Garrido commented. "He actually struck out the last out of the first seven innings six times. Of those six times, five of those times he had runners in scoring position where a hit would have separated the game. I thought he rose to the occasion. He was really a warrior through the whole thing."
But with one down in the Longhorn half of the frame, Wheeless eyed a slow breaking ball and earmarked it for Bastrop as it carried over the left field fence. His fourth homer of the year spotted Texas a 4-2 lead. Boyce was done while Cox hit his stride, producing a three-up, three-down inning for the Horns.
RHP Josh Smith took the hill for the Hogs but Teagarden was the king of the hill in this Regional. The fan favorite opened the eighth inning with a leadoff double and took third on Gentry's fielding error. Maroul's deep sacrifice fly to left field plated Teagarden to get the insurance run. Hudson fisted a shot into right field just before Peoples doubled to right put both runners in scoring position for what had been two of Texas' most reliable hitters on the season. But Stubbs and Johnston became Smith's first pair of strikeout victims.
The Horns took a 5-2 lead into the top of the ninth where Cox retired the side in order.
"We lost early to Arkansas and went into the losers bracket," Hudson said, "but we fought our way out. That's been the way our season has gone. When we got down, we always fight our way out of the hole."
Only this time, there is a championship for Texas at the end of the bout.