Forget about the bulletin board material, forget about the homer-less streak in Omaha -- the Texas Longhorns overcame both on Wednesday night at TD Ameritrade Park with a 1-0 victory over the UC-Irvine Anteaters.
An incredible performance from starting pitcher Chad Hollingsworth and an unlikely home run from shortstop CJ Hinojosa provided everything Texas needed on an evening with few base hits and even fewer scoring opportunities for either team. Combined, the teams managed only nine hits.
The win kept the Longhorns alive in the College World Series and exacted revenge for the Saturday loss to the Anteaters and the loss in the 2007 Round Rock Regional.
Texas will now face Vanderbilt on Friday at 2 p.m. CT needing to win two more elimination games against the Commodores to advance to the finals.
Hollingsworth, the hero from the clinching game of the Houston Regional with his unlikely complete-game performance in his first start of the season, had called out the Irvine lineup on Tuesday, saying it is "mediocre." His pitching approach reflected the belief, as he consistently attacked the strike zone the same way that he did against the Aggies, throwing 8.1 innings of mostly flawless baseball, giving up only four hits and zero earned runs while striking out five.
Notably, he didn't walk a single batter, though he did hit two with a curveball that wasn't ever absolutely consistent on the evening. In the process, he made himself one of the most improbable postseason heroes in the history of Texas baseball and cemented his place in history.
Left hander Travis Duke came out of the bullpen to record the save by putting down two straight Anteater hitters after Hollingsworth was pulled following a base hit to lead off the inning and a hitter retired when UC-Irvine opted to swing away instead of bunt in a decision that came back to haunt head coach Mike Gillespie.
Meanwhile, the lone run for Texas came from a seemingly impossible moment.
Just when it seemed like the new ballpark in Omaha was an absolute graveyard for hard-hit baseballs, a 2-0 cut fastball from UC-Irvine starter Evan Manarino on the inside corner was crushed by Hinojosa over the bullpen in left field and into the stands for the first home run of the College World Series. The blast sent Longhorn fans into a frenzy along with the rest of the baseball fans in attendance who merely wanted to see some offense.
Not only was it the first home run of 2014 in Omaha, it was the first home run in 115 innings at TD Ameritrade Park.
NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 19, 2014
The Texas sophomore was clearly sitting dead red on the pitch and didn't miss a bit of it, hitting the ball about as far as he could given the dead bats, dead balls, and big stadium. Prodigious clout, version 2.0?
Hinojosa then recorded all three putouts in the next half inning to draw praise from Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA for his defensive work as Hollingsworth hit 100 pitches on his final toss of the seventh.
Out for the eighth inning, the Texas starter went 2-2 against the first hitter before a curveball got away from him and struck the UC-Irvine batter in the back to produce a dangerous leadoff runner, who was advanced with a bunt, bringing up leadoff hitter Taylor Sparks.
The same hitter who sparked the rally for UC-Irvine in the eighth inning on Saturday was retired on a popup to second baseman Brooks Marlow to seriously reduce the magnitude of the threat. Digging deep, Hollingsworth made another pitch to induce a grounder up the middle that was handled by Hinojose with ease to end the Anteater threat, continuing the trend established in Houston.
Prior to Hinojosa's monster home run, the best opportunity for Texas to score a run came and went quickly in the top of the sixth when left fielder Ben Johnson hit what appeared to be a double down the third base line he was able to stretch into a triple due to a bobble of the ball by the UC-Irvine left fielder.
Then first baseman Connor Spencer turned in one of the more remarkable plays of the tournament by noticing that Johnson had overshot first base. Upon appeal, the first base umpire made what appeared on replay to be the correct call by calling Johnson out. Fittingly, the next hitter singled on the first pitch, as Payton lined a ball into left field that would have scored Johnson. Instead, Barrera grounded out to second and the half inning ended without a run.
There was finally a runner in scoring position in the bottom of the frame after a one-out base hit and a two-out passed ball, but that lasted only one pitch, as Hollingsworth was able to strike out the hitter on the next pitch after the ball in the dirt that allowed the baserunner to advance.
Both pitchers retired the first two batters only to give up a two-out base hit and then end the threats quickly through the first two innings, as the respective starters pounded the strike zone with less than overpowering stuff, but enough command to induce poor contact or strike hitters out.
Some mistakes on the basepaths helped, as Texas center fielder Mark Payton was picked off in the top of the first and UC-Irvine right fielder Kris Paulino was thrown out at second on an attempted steal by Horns catcher Tres Barrera in the bottom of the second.
By the top of the third, the narrative changed, with Manarino retiring the three Texas batters in order. Meanwhile, Hollingsworth struggled to command his curveball early, giving up a hit in the first on a hanger and then hitting shortstop Adam Alcantara to lead off the bottom of the third.
As the discussion in the press box with an NCAA representative centered on the lack of power nationally and in Omaha, it was clear that the lack of extra base hits in TD Ameritrade Park put a premium on getting leadoff runners on base.
Of course, getting the leadoff runner on is only as valuable as the execution behind them and the Anteater hitter was unable to move Alcantara to second base and Payton showed off his speed by running down a ball that was crushed by UC-Irvine leadoff hitter Taylor Sparks into the left-center gap that would have likely scored the runner on first.
The easy, repeatable delivery of Manarino was difficult to figure out for the Texas hitters through the first half of the game, as his fastball wasn't touched and his breaking ball was inducing strikeouts with five through the first four innings. Considering that the Anteater starter's specialty was avoiding walks, the strikeout total was high for him.
By the fifth, it was back to the original plan -- two batters set down quickly, a two-out base hit, and nothing else. For both teams. In fact, by the end of that inning, all six hits in the game had come with two outs.
But then the blast from Hinjosa changed the game and Hollingsworth was able to make just enough pitches and receive just enough help from his defense to pull out another big win.
It was ugly, it was hard to watch at times, and it was stressful.
It was also a win, a huge win against an increasingly bitter rival, and the Horns are still alive in Omaha for at least one more game.