"It was kind of weird that I wasn't even nervous going out into this two games," he said. "There's a huge crowd out there and people usually get nervous like that, but I think I was so zoned in with (catcher) Taylor (Teagarden) and just into the ball game. It was kind of like a tunnel vision."
Alaniz was in command for seven innings before running into trouble in the eighth by surrendering just three hits and four walks while fanning five. Freshman Stephen Locke (5-1, 2.71 ERA) shouldered the Florida loss following his first start in exactly one month. Longhorn All-American closer J. Brent Cox survived a critical eighth inning, bases loaded jam and retired the sixth batters he faced (all strikeouts) to earn his NCAA-leading 18th save of the season.
"I think he did a remarkable job of coming out ready to pitch in the (ninth) inning and not taking any of the negatives that he faced in the first inning that he pitched," head coach Augie Garrido said. "That, to me, was the most remarkable thing of the night. For him to come out and pitch as aggressively and as effectively as he did, that doesn't happen very often."
Now, Texas will go for the title with its ace RHP Kyle McCulloch (11-4, 2.93 ERA) in the two-out-of-three format.
Texas rode the strong bats of DH Will Crouch and 3B David Maroul as both finished just a triple shy of hitting for the cycle. Maroul's two-run homer in the top of the fourth proved to be the difference maker. Crouch went three for four as his CWS average swelled to .523 by the time he reached the seventh inning.
"Hitting is all confidence," Crouch said. "I've got a lot of confidence at the plate and I'm staying relaxed. I guess seeing the ball is what it all comes down to."
Texas, now 55-16 on the season, extended its NCAA record for CWS wins to 77. The Horns collected eight hits in the contest while Florida managed four hits but the Gators suffered three errors in the program's first CWS championship round appearance.
The Horns got on the board in their first at-bat with Crouch's RBI double. RF Nick Peoples drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on CF Drew Stubbs' sacrifice bunt. He advanced to third on SS Seth Johnston infield chopper. Crouch's liner into center field plated Peoples as Crouch has hit safely in 11 of the past 13 games. In the home half of the frame, Florida leadoff batter Jeff Corsaletti reached on Johnston's fielding error. The senior atoned for his miscue by turning the double play, extending the school record to 78 on the season. Texas led, 1-0, after one.
"Our hitters have been doing a great job of getting that one run in the first inning and that's done a lot for me," Alaniz said. "Going out there and getting that one run early gives me a lot of confidence and that set the tone for it. The whole game, I was just looking at making aggressive pitches and I thought our defense played very well. Our guys were positioned very well. They had line drives that were hit at guys. Any other way, they could have been in the gap and had a little momentum going. But things just kind of fell into place."
In the second, Maroul, whose bat has come alive in Omaha, laced a two-out shot to left field and took second on Gavin Dickey's fielding error. 3B Brandon McArthur failed to cleanly field 2B Robby Hudson's sharply hit ball to put runners on the corner. But Locke forced a Peoples' groundout to end the inning. C Brian Jeroloman was bunted over after he reached on a leadoff single in the Gator half of the second. RF Brian Leclerc was issued his team's first walk of the game but the Horns orchestrated another double-kill to get out of the inning.
With two down in the top of the third, red-hot Crouch racked up his seventh homer of the season when he sent a high breaking ball over the left field wall. Alaniz followed with a three-up, three-down inning as the Horns took a 2-0 lead into the top of the fourth.
1B Chance Wheeless, playing with a dislocated shoulder, lined a one-out rocket into right field just before Maroul crushed his 10th homer of the year into the stands in left-center field. McArthur's second fielding error of the game (and the Gators' third in four innings) put Peoples on second. Stubbs, who has struggled mightily at the plate in two trips to Omaha, went down swinging but the Horns had given Alaniz (and his wicked breaking ball) a four-run cushion. Alaniz fanned two in the Gator half of the frame, having thrown 66 pitches through four innings.
Submarine RHP Connor Falkenbach (3-3, 2.97 ERA) took the mound for the Gators in the top of the fifth. He gave the Gators a chance by fanning three and yielding no runs in 3-2/3 innings. But he still had no answer for Crouch. The senior collected his third hit in as many appearances with his one-out sinking liner into right. Falkenbach fanned LF Carson Kainer and C Taylor Teagarden flew out to center, but Crouch boasted two more hits than the entire Gator team by the middle of the fifth.
Dickey drew a one-out walk and took second on the steal attempt after Hudson was charged with a fielding error. (The hard slide appeared to have kicked the ball out of Hudson's glove as the throw from Teagarden was on target.) But Alaniz quickly ended the frame when he K'd SS Justin Tordi and forced a DH Jared Kubin groundout.
Maroul was awarded a one-out double when his chopper down the third-base line took a fortuitous bounce for the Horns. Hudson's groundout put Maroul 90 feet away from home. Peoples fanned to leave Maroul stranded. All-American Matt LaPorta dropped a two-out single into shallow right in the top of the sixth after three Longhorns converged on the liner. (Peoples made a diving effort but the play belonged to Hudson.) Jeroloman lined out to Peoples to end the brief uprising. More important, it meant every Longhorn starting pitcher has reached the sixth frame in all four CWS games this season.
LHP Mike Pete came on in relief for the Gators with two down in the top of the eighth and retired Wheeless.
The Gators cut the Longhorn lead in half and left the bases loaded in the top of the eighth. The Florida uprising began when leadoff hitter Tordi bunted his way on and reached second when the breaking ball got away from Teagarden. Cox came on in relief for the fourth time in as many CWS games after Alaniz issued a free pass to PH Stephen Barton. The second passed ball of inning for Teagarden put runners on second and third with no outs. Corsaletti took a called third strike on the fastball just before 2B Adam Davis was retired on three straight pitches.
But that brought LaPorta, the nation's leading collegiate home run hitter (26), back to the plate. The SEC Player of the Year sent Cox's fastball up the middle for a two RBI single and, suddenly, the Gators were right back in it. Cox then gave up two walks to load the bases and the tying run on second. But Leclerc went down swinging on a 2-2 fastball as Cox got out of one helluva jam.
RHP Darren O'Day, another sidearm pitcher, came on in the top of the ninth and quickly retired the side in order. But after a tough eighth inning, Cox took the hill in the bottom of the ninth with the determined look of someone who wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer.
"I knew I had to get it done, one way or another," Cox said. "I knew I wanted to throw strikes and compete. The strikeouts were just a blessing; I was looking for ground balls."
The first "blessing" was when PH Chris Woods was fanned on a high, outside fastball. Then Cox fanned Tordi with his slider. When DH Steve Barton took a called third strike, this one was in the record book just as the Gators had started to settle down and swing some momentum into its dugout.
"We have an opportunity to come back tomorrow to play our hearts out," Gator coach Pat MacMahon said, "and, by gosh, we will."
No doubt, but the Gators will have to do it against a Texas team that has shown nothing but heart during the 2005 postseason.