Garrido Takes A 'Chance'; Horns In Title Series

Redemption, thy name is Chance Wheeless. The sophomore's game-winning solo shot in the bottom of the ninth lifted Texas to a thrilling 4-3 win over Baylor at Rosenblatt Stadium Wednesday, sending the Horns into the College World Series championship round for the third time in four seasons. The homer more than atoned for Wheeless' seventh inning error that led to Baylor's first lead of the contest.

The closest Texas (54-16) has come to a celebratory dogpile this season was when jubilant teammates mobbed Wheeless as crossed home following the most important at-bat of his career. Two innings earlier, Wheeless failed to catch a relatively routine toss from RHP Kenn Kasparek on Baylor RF Seth Fortenberry's bunt attempt (partly because of a bum shoulder, partly because of the blinding glare from the setting sun). Texas momentarily lost its lead and, for a moment, head coach Augie Garrido was convinced that Wheeless' shoulder injury (re-aggravated during a sixth inning at-bat) meant that he should be removed from the batting order.

"Chance's shoulder has been bothering him so I went up before the (ninth) inning started and said, 'Chance, I'm going to have (Clay) Van Hook hit for you," Garrido said. "He said, 'I really hit this guy (RHP Ryan LaMotta) well.' I said, 'Well, what about your shoulder?' He said, 'I hit this guy hard. I'll be okay.'"

Wheeless, however, whiffed on Lamotta's changeup with the score tied at 3-3.

"When he swung at the changeup, I felt I had been misled," Garrido continued. "When he hit the home run, I thanked him, I thanked his mother and father, I thanked their mothers and fathers, and everybody that had anything to do with Chance Wheeless being on this planet."

While Garrido's list of thank you notes is understandably extensive, Wheeless' MO was simply to get on base and then later thank a teammate for a potential game-winning RBI.

"I was kind of down-and-out for a lot of the game just because I was struggling with the fact that my shoulder kept popping out of its socket every time I'd swing," Wheeless said. "(I had) that one rough defensive play there where the ball got into the sun but it all turned around with one swing. I knew I needed just one swing to get a base hit and let the guys behind me do the work. I'm shocked and this is unbelievable to me."

Texas had dropped four straight to the bad news Bears this season but, in the past five days, won the pair that mattered most. The Longhorn win sends Co-Big 12 Conference champ Baylor (46-24) packing following its most successful season ever while Texas will play for its sixth CWS championship in program history. The Horns will now await the outcome of the Florida-Arizona State game slated for Thursday afternoon. The Sun Devils knocked the Gators from the unbeaten ranks, 6-1, Wednesday. The first pitch of the CWS Championship Round, a two-out-of-three series, is set for 6 p.m. Saturday.

Wednesday's contest was a pitcher's duel (just four hits for Texas; five for Baylor) that saw a pivotal play at the plate, resulting in Texas' tying run in the eighth, as well as continued superlative outfield play from both squads that was worth the price of admission for the 27,452 (announced) in attendance.

RHP J. Brent Cox picked up the win following 2-1/3 hitless innings and a record-setting 11th CWS appearance. The All-American is now 8-2 on the year to go along with his NCAA-leading 17 saves. Baylor ace Mark McCormick (8-4, 2.95) was back on the mound for a school record 20th start of the season after just three days rest since shouldering the 5-1 loss to Texas last Saturday. Freshman RHP Kenn Kasparek (8-0, 2.03 ERA) notched his first CWS start, throwing a career-best six strikeouts in 6-1/3 innings. LaMotta took the loss to finish the season at 5-2.

SS Seth Johnston broke the Longhorn single season record with his 113th hit (formerly held by Tim Moss, 2001-03) with his two-out single in the bottom of the first.

Baylor DH Zach Dillon's leadoff single in the top of the second was Baylor's first hit up the game. After two failed bunt attempts, LF Reid Brees' double play clear the base paths. 2B Robby Hudson's diving catch robbed 3B Kevin Russo of a two-out single to end the inning but McCormick then retired the Longhorn side in order.

SS Paul Witt singled up the middle to open third and moved to second on No. 9 hitter Chase Gerdes' sacrifice bunt. He moved to third on 2B Michael Griffin's ground out but 1B Kyle Reynolds took a called third strike on Kasparek's breaking ball to leave a Bear stranded 90 feet from home.

The Horns erased the goose egg in the home half of the frame. McCormick's first free pass of the contest put 3B David Maroul on first, and Maroul then advanced to second on Hudson's groundout. RF Nick Peoples (a lock for the All-CWS team) lined an 0-1 breaking ball into right field for an RBI standup double. Fortenberry's leaping grab of CF Drew Stubbs' shot on a 3-2 pitch prevented a run and robbed the speedy sophomore of a likely triple. Texas led 1-0 at the end of three.

It didn't last long. C Josh Ford launched the first pitch he saw -- a hanging breaking ball -- over the 375 marker in left-center field to knot the affair at 1-1. His team-leading ninth homer of the year was Baylor's first round-tripper of the CWS. The inning ended when Russo took a called third strike on another Kasparek breaking ball.

The Bears had a golden opportunity to plate some runs in the top of the fifth. With runners on first and second with two out, Reynolds (who had fanned twice this game and finished 0-for-13 in the CWS) went down swinging on a high breaking ball as Kasparek survived his first jam of the contest.

Runs were at a premium in this pitcher's dead heat. But C Taylor Teagarden came up big when he sent McCormick's 96-MPH fastball into the right-center field stands for his seventh homer of the season. Texas took a 2-1 lead into the top of the sixth. Ford was issued a free pass with four straight balls to lead off the inning. Facing a 3-2 count, Dillon fanned on Kasparek's breaking ball just before Teagarden easily threw Ford out on his slow-as-molasses attempt to steal second.

"Some of the defensive plays, by both teams, kept the game in check," Garrido said. "Then, all of a sudden, the defense for both teams opened up the doors for each other. Both teams capitalized on the problems that the defense had."

The Bears certainly capitalized on Texas' defenses problems in the top of the seventh, as the first Longhorn error of the CWS saw Baylor jump to a 3-2 lead. The frame began when Russo reached on a leadoff infield single. But Fortenberry's routine bunt to the pitcher turned into a Baylor run when Wheeless failed to catch Kasparek's high toss to first. That scored Russo and put Fortenberry on third with no outs.

"The ball that got past him, he didn't just miss the ball, it was in the sun," Garrido said. "It was directly in the sun. For that time of day, in this game, you cannot throw to first base to pick guys off. The (ESPN) color commentators have mentioned that several times on TV, but it's true. That's what happened to the ball. It got into the sun."

Wheeless made a nice defensive play to record the first out of the inning. LHP Buck Cody came on in relief and faced all of one batter. Right-handed PH Kevin Sevigny singled to left as Baylor took its first lead of the game, 3-2. Pitching coach Tom Holliday went to the bullpen again. Cox came in to face the top of the Baylor order. The All-American closer forced 2B Michael Griffin to hit into a double play but Texas trailed for the first time in the 2005 CWS.

LaMotta came on in relief for McCormick and retired Texas in order in the bottom of the seventh. But so did Cox in the top of the Baylor eighth.

This is where it got interesting. Hudson reached on a Russo fielding error but was thrown out at second on Peoples' bunt attempt. But Peoples advanced to third when Lamotta's pickoff attempt bounced off the turf and skipped toward the Baylor dugout. CF Drew Stubbs' sacrifice fly to shallow right made for one of the most memorable plays at the plate in Longhorn history. Ford was a good two-feet off the bag on the third base line as Peoples careened toward home. A collision was in order; the only question was which player would be left standing.

Peoples leveled Ford like he was Cedric Benson plunging for yards-after-contact, touching the plate as both players lay dazed in the dirt. The home plate umpire ruled Peoples' safe at the plate while Baylor coaches argued that Peoples should have been thrown out for an apparent high slide.

"The umpire told me that I blocked the runner trying to get to the plate," Ford said. "I thought the play was a lot closer than he thought. I thought it was going to be really close at the plate. I went up the line a little bit to block it because I thought we were really going to have a good shot. He hit me and the ball popped out. I guess he got around me and got to the plate."

Regardless, this one was tied at 3-3. But there was still plenty of fireworks on tap for an electrifying final frame.

Brees walked to open the top of the ninth and was sacrificed over on Russo's sac bunt. With the go-ahead run on board, Fortenberry came to bat as the Bears looked for their second, last-second comeback in as many days. Unfortunately for Baylor, Russo hit the ball in the general vicinity of Stubbs. Stubbs may have a (relatively) quiet bat during the CWS but there is no denying his defensive wizardry. The sophomore (with 4.3 speed) all but left singe marks on the Rosenblatt turf as his run-saving, diving grab may have been the most important of all UT's highlight reel defensive plays this CWS. In fact, Brees had already reached home when he realized Stubbs had come up with the improbable grab, resulting in an inning-ending double play. (The look on Brees' face was priceless, but it could be easily translated as, "How in the hell...?")

Stubbs admitted that he almost gave up on the play, and seriously considered (during that split-second eternity) of making the play off the bounce.

"As I came in, it kept hanging in the air," he said. "If it would have hit, I don't think it would have gone very far after that."

No, but Brees would at least have been at third with just one out instead of Texas coming to the plate for its final at-bat. That's when Wheeless sent the 1-1 pitch over the right field wall, ending the game in dramatic fashion and extending Texas' NCAA record to 76 CWS wins. Just as important, Texas is the only unbeaten in this year's CWS and will rest its pitching staff Thursday while Arizona State and Florida fight for survival in the Omaha heat that has reached 100 degrees this week. The Horns, meanwhile, have peaked at the right time and are the hottest team in college baseball, two wins from the program's sixth national title.

Horns Digest Top Stories