Theoretically, this is the kind of game where a school like Texas should have an advantage over a school like Irvine. The Eaters represent a small fish in a small pond, in a talent-rich part of the country. With one dominant pitcher and an excellent coach, they play consistently good baseball and have the ability to get past teams that are objectively more talented than they are, because A) the talent gap isn't as wide as one might think, and B) good pitching is the ultimate equalizer.
But in a game where each team's third starter is called upon to keep the season alive, a school like Texas should have the advantage. With Dillon Peters injured and unavailable, a lot of the inherent advantage evaporates. Still, though, based on Chad Hollingsworth's virtuoso performance against Texas A&M in the Houston Regional, you have to think UT should have the pitching advantage in this evening's rematch against the Anteaters.
Evan Brock has normally been Irvine's third starter, but it doesn't look like he's getting the nod tonight. Coach Mike Gillespie will apparently go with Evan Manarino, who sports a 2.79 ERA in 22 appearances--10 of which are starts. Manarino went 2/3 of an inning in the opener against Texas on Saturday, allowing one hit and striking out one. Opponents do bat north of .300 against him, giving Texas some reason for optimism. If they can get the timely hits with men on base, which they weren't able to do Saturday against ace Andrew Morales, the Longhorns should feel good about their chances.
Hollingsworth comes in with a 1.36 ERA, but has only pitched 46.1 innings on the year. That clincher in Houston where he ended A&M's season was the only start Hollingsworth had all year, and since the Horns went 2-0 in the Super Regional he hasn't been needed since. If the long rest leaves him fresh--as opposed to rusty--Irvine will have their work cut out for them.
It should also be noted that season-long fourth starter Lukas Schiraldi is equally rested and available tonight. Schiraldi had control issues in the one loss to A&M, but if Hollingsworth struggles early you have to think Schiraldi is the guy who'll get first crack at righting the ship. Why not save him for the next start instead? Because the first Vandy game would not be until Friday at 2:00 PM, meaning Nathan Thornhill would be available to start. Should Texas pull that one off, Parker French would be available on four days' rest for the winner-take-all game on Saturday.
So it's advantage Texas on the hill tonight, as the Hollingsworth/Schiraldi combination trumps the Manarino/Brock/Johnny Wholestaff one. Pitching matchups aren't everything, of course, but Texas also displayed an understanding of the formula for winning in this new ballpark on Monday against Louisville: take advantage of your opponent's mistakes, and don't make many of your own. Runs are hard to come by in this yard, so when Irvine opens the door Texas will need to step through it. That's exactly what they did Monday to send the Cardinals home, and a similar opportunistic performance will place Texas firmly in Vanderbilt's way.
First pitch is 7:00 on ESPN. This is your open thread. Hook 'em!