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Texas to the Big 12 Semifinals

The Longhorns rode another strong offensive performance and a complete game from Nolan Kingham to beat Kansas and advance to the semifinals in OKC.

Texas came into the Big 12 Tournament as a likely three-seed in the upcoming NCAA Baseball Tournament, with the possibility of missing the party altogether with a two-and-out performance. By the end of last night’s winner’s-bracket contest against a decent (and desperate) Kansas squad, the announcers were talking about an outside shot of Texas hosting a regional.

It’s actually not crazy. Last night’s win bumped Texas’ RPI up to 16, and the case can be made that the Texas baseball team should at least be a shoo-in to grab a two seed somewhere. Hosting is still likely a pipe dream, but winning the conference tournament with two more victories may at least make the committee consider it—after all, the top 16 teams get to host, and Texas is now in the mix for that distinction.

KU entered the winner’s bracket by virtue of a first-round victory over TCU, one of the conference’s two predicted top-eight national seeds. Still, after being swept at the hands of the Horned Frogs in the regular season, you can bet Texas was happy to take its chances against the Jayhawks.

Texas did it at the plate by taking advantage of an opportunity in the second inning to take an early 4-0 lead. With the bases juiced and nobody out, Michael McCann drove in two runs with a single and Patrick Mathis knocked in another after a David Hamilton sacrifice bunt. Kody Clemens then hammered a drive to right field, but the Kansas right fielder made a nice play to make it a sacrifice fly rather than a rally-continuing double.

Nolan Kingham was largely in control, although Kansas would get a pair back in the fourth with three straight two-out hits.

In the sixth, Texas tacked on an insurance run. Jake McKenzie pinch hit for Mathis and crushed a double to deep left field with men on second and third. Ryan Reynolds scored easily from third, but McCann — who was on second — had to hold up as it wasn’t clear whether McKenzie’s drive would fall or be caught. Kody Clemens and Austin Todd stranded McCann at third with back-to-back swinging strikeouts.

The 5-2 score would hold until the ninth, when the Jayhawks made things interesting. Kingham sandwiched two strikeouts around an infield single, and then Kansas DH Jaxx Groshans hammered a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall for a two-run dinger, suddenly making it a one run game with two outs in the ninth. Third baseman David Kyriacou then absolutely crushed what looked like it might be a game-tying solo shot, but Todd ran it down on the warning track for the final out.

So with a 5-4 victory Texas now gets today off and is in the driver’s seat to win the bottom half of the bracket. TCU and Kansas will rematch tonight at 7:00, and Texas will have two chances to beat the winner tomorrow.

The first of those games is scheduled for 12:30 PM tomorrow (depending on how long the 9:00 AM game takes). If Texas wins, they’re in the title game. If they lose, then a winner-take-all semifinal will be held in the afternoon or evening (depending whether the top half of the bracket needs a second game).

At this point, even if Texas goes down tomorrow, the Longhorns’ spot in the NCAA Tournament is secure. So in my view, Texas fans ought to pull for TCU tonight. The chance to snag a win against a top-10 team tomorrow would potentially jump Texas’ RPI even higher, and add fuel to the Horns’ (extremely) dark-horse bid to host a regional. In any event, Texas may be peaking at the right time to make some noise next week.