Chad. Freaking. Hollingsworth. The reliever whose number was called stepped up tonight in a huge way, giving up a big fat goose egg in earned runs and working around a putrid first inning by his fielders to only allow a single run. The offense would get it back in the bottom of the frame, and the Aggies really didn't threaten much after that to provide the Texas Longhorns with a monumental 4-1 victory Monday night at Reckling Park in Houston to advance to the Super Regionals for the first time since 2011.
Texas made some mistakes in the field and even more on the base paths, meaning despite essentially dominating the game play they clung to a 2-1 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning. Mark Payton, who was on base all night long, drew a leadoff walk ahead of a three-pitch strikeout by freshman Tres Barrera. Madison Carter drew another free pass to bring up CJ Hinojosa, who had two hits already but both times had erased his accomplishment with boneheaded base running. The shortstop came up big, though, stroking a 1-2 pitch to left field for a double that scored Payton and gave the Longhorns a cushion.
Collin Shaw followed with a sac fly, and that was the final margin of 4-1. I have to admit, I was wary of the decision to bring Hollingsworth back out for the eighth and even more so for the ninth, especially after he walked the leadoff man in the final frame. It seemed like a fresh bullpen was the best bet to preserve the good work Chad had done to that point. But, not to be outdone by A&M's Tyler Stubblefield--whose "Horns Down" directed at the UT dugout last night went somewhat viral today--Hollingsowrth buckled down and finished the inning and the game with two groundouts and a pop-out.
Hollingsworth's line on the night: 0 ER, 2 H, 5 BB, 3 K. Yeah, that's right--in his first start of the season, he threw a two-hitter against a bitter rival with a trip to the Super Regionals on the line.
Why did last season's occasional mid-week starter get the nod?
Texas starter Chad Hollingsworth: "I texted coach last night and said give me the ball. I wanted it."— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) June 3, 2014
It was the same type of trust that head coach Augie Garrido put in players like Austin Wood and Chance Wheeless, other Texas postseason heroes. It paid off then, too.
And all that lead to one of the most cathartic moments in recent Texas baseball history:
As a result of his heroics, Texas will face Houston next weekend, in all likelihood; the Cougars hold a commanding lead over LSU at the moment after the Tiger's pitching staff completely imploded in a seven-run second inning for Houston. The rumor is that would mean UT hosts the Super Regional, which means all of you living in Austin need to clear your weekend calendars to create a strong atmosphere.
For the record, the Big 12 now has FOUR teams in the Super Regionals after starting the Tournament with five. The vaunted SEC, whose perceived strength was the only reason an Aggie team with a losing record in conference snuck into the field in the first place, currently has only Vanderbilt and Ole Miss in the second weekend. Barring a spectacular comeback by LSU, that's where it will stand. Even if the Tigers do the unthinkable, that will be 3 of 10 for the SEC and 4 of 5 for the Big 12. We'll take it. Assuming LSU does not pull it out, Texas, Texas Tech, and TCU will all be hosting Super Regionals next week, and Oklahoma State will do the same if UC Irvine beats Oregon State.
In short, a banner weekend for the Big 12 and an illustration that perhaps SEC dominance of this sport is overstated. Hook 'em. And to quote the great Peter Bean: This...is your celebration thread.