Those worries are now but a distant memory. Texas is again the NCAA's best.
"When you win one of these, a lot of things go through your mind besides the game," Augie Garrido said postgame. "I hope everyone here realizes how proud and special these guys are. Not only did they win the national championship, they also represented the school and university with pride and dignity. They redefine the word team, and this game will probably redefine their lives. They're the very best at what they're doing today. This national championship went to a group that really deserves it."
The Horns absolutely deserved it, sweeping through Omaha undefeated with heart-stopping wins over Rice and Stanford (twice) and then a blowout -- but with some late-inning nail-biting moments -- of the Cinderella, never-say-die Gamecocks.
"Texas has tremendous players from their pitchers all the way through their lineup," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "They deserve to be national champions today."
Texas did it with a combination of the expected -- Longhorn ace Justin Simmons provided solid starting pitching, All-Tourney performer Dustin Majewski delivered a multi-RBI performance, and stopper Huston Street threw a shutdown inning-and-two-thirds to close out the game -- and the unexpected: reserve outfielder Chris Carmichael, getting just his 16th start of the season and his first during UT's NCAA Tournament run, blasted a three-run homer that pushed the Horns' run total to seven, all they would need on the day.
Call it a coach's hunch.
"I was sitting in the dugout before the game after batting practice, and it was all about (Chris') attitude," the Texas head coach said. "That position in the batting order hadn't been producing. Chris has had a lot of success in his background. I felt good about it. It was just an intuition. He came out and recognized what he could give to them team and did it."
Carmichael epitomizes the attitude that made this Texas team a champion. The senior outfielder, after sitting out all of the '01 season with an injury, returned to the Forty Acres to face stiff competition in the outfield in '02. Ultimately, with the emergence of newcomer Majewski and the late-season return from injury of Matt Rosenberg, former starter Carmichael became a role player. Carmichael, though, handled the disappointment like the consummate team player that he is. And he turned in two of the most crucial post-season hits for the Horns with his homer Saturday and his clutch, pinch hit RBI triple in the Super Regional-clinching win over Houston.
"Coming into today, I felt good and I felt like I was having fun -- during batting practice and after batting practice especially," the senior from Decatur, Georgia said. "I don't know what it was. I thought I'd take this good feeling into the game."
That he certainly did, although the Horns' good feelings received an early test.
UT starter Simmons ran into trouble immediately when Gamecock leadoff batter Drew Meyer reached base on a Brandon Fahey error. Justin Harris quickly followed with a weak punch into right field for a single and slugger Yaron Peters walked, putting Simmons in a bases loaded, no-out top of the first jam. The Longhorn lefty, though, with some crafty pitching that was a sign of things to come, worked out of the inning with minimal damage. Simmons forced Steve Thomas into an infield pop-up and Trey Dyson into a sac fly to right that drove in Meyer with an unearned run before striking out Garris Gonce looking to end the inning.
That would be the last time Texas trailed.
As they've done throughout the post-season, the Horns answered before their opponent could get comfortable with or used to the lead.
In the home half of the first, Texas strung together three straight, inning-opening hits -- a Tim Moss single, an Omar Quintanilla double and a Majewski triple -- and a one-out sac fly to jump on top of Carolina 3-1.
The Gamecocks got back on the board in the second when a Harris two-out bloop found the outfield grass in shallow center to score Landon Powell, who had doubled to right center with one out.
The Texas batters moved the cushion back to two runs in the bottom of the second, pushing across a single run on a Quintanilla RBI double that plated J.D. Reininger who had reached on an error to lead off the inning.
Simmons shut down South Carolina through the middle innings, retiring the Gamecocks in order in the third, fourth and fifth before allowing a leadoff single in the sixth. The sophomore ace, though, set down the next three USC batters.
USC starter Aaron Rawl and reliever Chris Spigner, although not in easy fashion, matched Simmons' shutout totals in the third and fourth. Rawl stranded a runner on second in the third and UT ran itself out of a potential big inning in the fourth when third base coach Tommy Harmon waved Reininger home from second on a one-out infield hit by Quintanilla. SS Meyer, though, had knocked the ball down in the hole and quickly recovered, throwing home and catching Reininger half way down the line. Reininger tried to scramble back to third but was easily out on the throw to third from Powell.
The Horns finally broke through in the fifth. Carmichael, starting in the outfield in place of Matt Rosenberg, proved Garrido a prophet with a one-out, three-run homer into the right field bleachers to push the Texas lead to 7-2.
Texas added an insurance run in the sixth to push the lead to six at 8-2 with a sac fly RBI from Ryan Hubele that scored Majewski, who had walked to lead off the inning and advanced to third on a Fahey double down the right field line.
South Carolina, typifying its CWS performance, battled back. Simmons, after surrendering a leadoff walk and a bunt single to start the seventh, induced Harris into a double play on a 3-2 pitch, but with a runner still on third and two outs, the Gamecocks chased the UT starter with three straight hits. Frank Anderson, perhaps a batter or two too late, pulled Simmons for Alan Bomer. Inheriting a second and third situation with two runs already across, the junior rightie struck out USC pinch hitter Smith looking on a beautiful 3-2 pitch to hold the score at 8-4.
After a three-up, three-down seventh for the Horns, the Gamecocks put a scare into the Orange-clad contingent in Rosenblatt in the eighth. Bomer retired leadoff batter Brian Buscher, but Powell followed with a single and nine hitter Kevin Melillo drew his fourth free pass of the day, forcing Anderson back to the mound and into the pen, this time for closer Street.
Street walked Meyer, the first batter he faced, to load the bases with one out, but the freshman hurler got Harris to hit into a potential inning-ending double play. Quintanilla cleanly fielded the Harris grounder and fired to Moss at second, who tried to complete the DP with a turn to first. Moss misfired -- possibly because of an aggressive slide by Meyer -- allowing not only Powell but Melillo to score, shaving the Texas lead to two at 8-6 with the Gamecocks still alive in the inning. Street, though, silenced the suddenly resurgent South Carolina bats by striking out slugger Peters to end the visitor half of the frame.
The home half of the inning ensured that the Gamecocks would need a miracle finish to overcome Street and the Horns.
Texas plated four huge insurance runs, registering four hits and sending nine men to the plate in the inning. Fahey's no-out, bases-loaded single to right past a drawn in USC infield scored the first two UT runs of the inning, and after a Hubele sac fly scored Jeff Ontiveros and, in a great hustle play, moved Fahey to second, the junior shortstop stole third and came home on an errant throw from C Powell.
With Street on the mound in the ninth, those eighth inning runs proved more than enough. James Street's son continued with the creation of his own distinct national championship legacy, wrapping up the '02 baseball title for Texas and the College World Series MVP award for himself by setting down South Carolina in the ninth to pick up the save, his fourth in four CWS games.
Simmons earned win No. 16, his second in Omaha, on his way to a spot on the All-Tournament team.
"I had a couple rough outings in the regional and super regional, but that's part of baseball," starter Simmons said of the offensive and relief support he received Saturday. "As coach said, that's why you play on a team. When I was struggling, my teammates picked me up. When one guy goes down, others pick us up. It's the story of our season."
That story is a story of five championships -- the regular season Big 12 crown, the conference tourney title, the Regional and Super Regional championships, and now, most importantly, the national title. Consider the jinx over!