DH Will Crouch's solo shot in the bottom of the six cleared the left-center field wall (with room to spare) to give Texas the lead for good.
Kasparek went two innings, allowing two hits, one earned run, no walks and two strikeouts. Cox picked up his 17th save of the season after allowing two hits, no runs and one walk with two Ks during the final 1-2/3 innings. McCulloch (2.99 ERA) notched his 21st start of the season and went 4-2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and three earned runs with two strikeouts and no walks. Senior LHP Buck Cody went two-thirds of an inning, tossing all of three pitches, but crucial ones from the erratic reliever for the second evening in a row.
This is a Texas team that excels once its back's against the wall, head coach Augie Garrido said earlier this week. A week after fighting back through the loser's bracket in the Austin Regional, the Horns rallied from a series-opening 6-4 loss to the host Rebels and won two-straight in front of combined series-record crowd of more than 27,000. But one of the weapons Texas has discovered the past two weeks, to go along with its pitching depth and one of the best defensive teams the Horns have fielded in a couple of decades, is clutch hitting.
"We had timely hitting with runners in scoring position," Garrido said. "We also left 500 runners on base. Tonight, it looked like it was magical."
3B Chris Coghlan lined a one-out single into right field to open the game and advanced to second on a fielder's choice. 1B Stephen Head (6-for-7 in the Super Regional in the first two games) launched a rocket into right field but Nick Peoples turned in another highlight reel diving catch to end the inning.
For the third time this series, the Longhorns took the early lead. RF Nick Peoples reached on a leadoff walk and was sacrificed over on a CF Drew Stubbs bunt. SS Seth Johnston slapped a 1-1 pitch into the power alley, resulting in an RBI double, and then moved to third on a wild pitch. But the senior was thrown out at the plate on LF Carson Kainer's single. DH Will Crouch's single put runners on the corners but C Taylor Teagarden popped up as Texas led, 1-0, at the end of one.
The Rebels quickly responded as McCulloch gave up three straight singles in the top of the second. Leadoff batter LF Mark Wright singled up the middle just before 2B Cooper Osteen notched his first hit of the Super Regional when he punched the ball into left field. SS Zack Cozart then lined a 1-2 pitch into right field, scoring two runs, but was thrown out at third. Osteen took a called third strike for McCulloch's first K of the contest before the sophomore forced a ground out to end the inning with Texas trailing, 2-1.
The Horns answered, collecting two runs on three hits. 1B Chance Wheeless' first-pitch, lead off single of the frame set the tone. Wheeless moved to second on 3B David Maroul's sacrifice bunt. Garrido would play small-ball all night, just as he has done during most of his nine-year Texas tenure.
"There are those who will explain to you, in great detail over the internet, just how crappy it is to bunt," Garrido quipped.
Peoples' two-out, RBI single plated Wheeless to knot the affair at 2-2. Peoples then executed Texas' first successful steal of the series. Still looking for his first hit of the Super Regional, Stubbs struck out on a wild pitch but then turned on the afterburners to reach first base, putting runners on the corners.
That brought leading-hitter Johnston to the plate. His bloop single to left field plated Peoples as Texas regained the lead, 3-2.
My new best friend is Nick Peoples. His pinpoint toss nailed Coghlan at second base, going for the extra bag following his shot into right field. (Peoples produced his first homer of the season Sunday night; his diving catch last Monday in the Austin Regional was the spark that turned the tide against Arkansas.) Peoples ended the frame when he ran down RF Brian Pettway's deep ball into right field.
Osteen lined a two-out single to right field in the top of the fourth before Cozart singled up the middle. But those Rebels were stranded when C Barry Gunther went down swinging on a McCulloch changeup. But Fowler retired seven straight Horns to send the one-run game into the fifth inning.
Ole Miss rallied in the top of the fifth as DH Justin Henry reached on a one-out bunt. Coghlan doubled to left, sending Henry to third and pitching coach Tom Holliday to the mound. Pettway groundout scored the tying run as Holliday sent LHP Buck Cody (a 3.96 ERA in just 50 innings) to the mound. But the senior did his job, forcing Head into a routine groundout on one pitch to quell the Ole Miss uprising. Johnston tallied his third hit in as many appearances with a one-out single to center field. But Kainer hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
Cody plunked leadoff batter Wright in the foot to open the top of the sixth. Kasparek (1.95 ERA) took the hill after Osteen popped up to right field. Cozart popped up to Hudson for the second out before Kasparek fanned Gunther with a fastball on a 3-2 pitch.
Crouch airmailed a high fastball that cleared at least 380 feet over the left-center field to open the Longhorn sixth. It was the DH's sixth homer of the year that reclaimed the Longhorn lead. After Teagarden walked, Fowler handed the ball over to Head (the Rebel first baseman who is also 7-3 on the year with a 2.53 ERA). After Wheeless bunted Teagarden to second, Hudson singled up the middle on a breaking ball to plate Texas' second run of the inning. With a 5-3 lead, the Horns were just three innings away from Omaha.
Kasparek retired the side in order in the top of the seventh, putting an exclamation point on the inning when he fanned Coghlan on a 1-2 fastball (after he had gone 3-for-3 on the night). Kainer dropped a two-out single into right field before Kainer reached on a walk. But Teagarden was fanned on a 3-2 pitch to send the game into the eighth.
The Rebels made it a nailbiting frame for Orangebloods. Head reached on a one-out infield hit to bring the tying run to the plate. Wright singled up the middle, prompting Holliday to call for Cox (2.05 ERA) to make his third appearance in the Super Regional. Osteen drove a 1-2 fastball up the middle to load the bases. Cozart's sacrifice to left field on the 2-1 breaking ball made it a 5-4 game. Cox forced a Gunther groundout to end the inning.
Wheeless opened the Longhorn eighth with a leadoff single to right and moved to second on Maroul's sacrifice bunt. Hudson's second RBI single of the game got the run back as Texas took a 6-4 lead into Ole Miss' last at-bat.
CF Miles Franklin went down swinging on the 2-2 slider, bringing the top of the order to the plate. Henry grounded out before Coghlan was issued a base on balls. Pettway singled up the middle to put runners on first and second, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. In this case, it was the guy that an announced crowd of 8,336 Ole Miss fans would most want with a bat in his hands: All-American Head.
"We have extremely talented players that have a great work ethic and are committed to excellence," Garrido said. "This team isn't about any one person; it's about team work. Our players have been willing to fulfill roles. We've been through a share of bitter disappointments and I think it speaks volumes of the attitude, the talent, the work ethic of the players and their commitment to each other and their willingness to fulfill roles."
And now, Texas will fulfill the role of what its fans expect from the storied program, year-in and year-out: World Series performers.