No. 2 seed Texas Longhorns baseball (39-22) will face a rematch with No.1 seed Long Beach State (38-18-1) Sunday night at 9 pm CST in the Long Beach NCAA regional final. The Dirtbags need to beat the Longhorns tonight and tomorrow in order to advance to the Super Regionals, while Texas just needs one win to advance.
While the Longhorns rested after last night’s 12 inning thriller with the Dirtbags, Long Beach State needed to win an elimination game on Sunday afternoon in order to survive. Long Beach State beat No.4 seed San Diego State 7-4 earlier today to advance to tonight’s regional final.
Though the Dirtbags have been economical with their bullpen use, Long Beach State will still need to dig deep into their pitching rotation against the ‘Horns. All three of Long Beach State’s weekend starters have been burned. Additionally, former starter AJ Jones (2.36 ERA) has been sidelined since April with a shoulder injury.
The Dirtbags also used closer Chris Rivera (2.76 ERA) for four innings on Saturday, so he will likely not be used tonight.
Expect the Dirtbags to try to patch the game together with relievers. Josh Advocate (2.14 ERA), who threw 19 pitches last night against the ‘Horns, is a first team All-Big West player and has 33 Ks in 33.1 innings pitched. The redshirt senior, however, has never started in his Dirtbag career — that could change.
If Long Beach State doesn’t try to win this one with relievers, then midweek starter John Castro (6.09 ERA) may get the nod. He’s the only Dirtbag pitching with over 19 innings of experience who hasn’t been used yet. The freshman has five starts, but has not been very effective as batters have hit .309 against him.
The picture below shows which Long Beach State pitchers will be available tonight. A red strike-through means the pitcher is burned for tonight. A yellow box means the pitcher has been used, but may still be available.
The Longhorns, on the other hand, have several pitchers at their disposal. Kyle Johnston (3.53 ERA) will likely get the start tonight. He last appeared on May 27 against TCU in the Big 12 tournament, where in three innings he allowed six hits and six runs (though only two were earned).
Despite the mediocre last start, the junior has been much more effective as a starter than in the closing role. His ERA is inflated from his experiment in the stopper position, but make no mistake about it — Johnston has the heat and the tools that MLB scouts salivate over. If he can lock in and get his command under control tonight, the ‘Horns should roll.
The Longhorns also have two other very capable starters in lefty Nick Kennedy (2.82 ERA) and freshman Blair Henley (4.22 ERA). Expect one of those guys to be called on relief assuming Johnston can’t go the distance, with the other getting the start tomorrow if the ‘Horns can’t pull it out tonight.
Here’s Texas’ “burn chart” to compare with Long Beach State’s:
Texas’ first two games of the NCAA tournament were marked by pitchers’ duels. Tonight could be different, as both teams’ studs are out of the way (the Dirtbags more so than the Longhorns). The key will be whether Johnston can control his command and get locked in, or if the ‘Horns will need to rely on relievers and a little offense to pull this one out.
Also, what’s the deal with all of the Dirtbag players looking like super villains? It’s the creepy mustaches, isn’t it?
Why does every Dirtbag player kinda look like a super villain? pic.twitter.com/f7juYoErAD— Burnt Orange Nation (@BON_SBNation) June 4, 2017
I’m not sure yet what channel the game will be on, though I know it will be broadcast on ESPN 3. I’ll keep you guys updated when I learn more about the TV situation.