The opening game of the College World Series for the Texas Longhorns always shaped up as a pitcher’s duel against the Mississippi State Bulldogs with two potential first-round picks going head to head.
On Sunday evening at TD Ameritrade Park, it was Bulldogs ace Will Bednar who had the upper hand in a 2-1 win for Mississippi State that sends Texas to the loser’s bracket after strikeout issues dominated the disappointing performance by the Longhorns.
Unfortunately for the Longhorns, difficulties even putting the ball in play negated the favorable conditions with the wind as the Bulldogs set a nine-inning College World Series record with 21 strikeouts. Every player in the Texas batting order struck out at least twice except for left fielder Eric Kennedy. The five through eight hitters each struck out three times.
“Tough day offensively, tough ballgame, but all we can do is get ready to work tomorrow and get ready to play on Tuesday,” Texas head coach David Pierce said.
Texas only received a jolt of optimism in the ninth inning when center fielder Mike Antico led off with a no-doubt home run into the left-field bleachers and designated hitter Ivan Melendez battled in a long at bat, taking several close pitches before lining a single into left field with two outs.
Third baseman Cam Williams finally shortened his swing facing an 0-2 count and moved pinch runner Dylan Campbell to third with a line-drive single into center field, bringing right fielder Douglas Hodo III to the plate with the winning run on first. Hodo grounded out to second base to end the game and send the Longhorns into the loser’s bracket.
Prior to the ninth inning, Texas only managed one hit, a single by second baseman Mitchell Daly, as Bednar was dominate.
The gameplan for Bednar wasn’t a secret coming in and the Longhorns hitters simply couldn’t catch up to elevated fastballs from Bednar, made more difficult by the lack of tilt on the pitch. A strikeout by left fielder Eric Kennedy was indicative of the issues for Texas — on a fastball lower in the zone, Kennedy swung several inches under it. Bednar was also able to throw his slider for a strike in any count with some nasty glove-side run that broke away from right-handed hitters.
Between the first and third innings, the eight players retired by Bednar went down on strikeouts. Even when Texas hitters were able to reach full counts, Bednar simply executed better — the first six batters all struck out until first baseman Zach Zubia drew a 10-pitch walk after spoiling three straight.
The walk to Zubia, only the 21st issued by Bednar on the season, drove the Mississippi State ace from the game after he managed to get in a pitch to Melendez. Predictably, it was a strike as Melendez fouled it off, and the Texas fans in Omaha could do nothing except join the maroon-clad partisans in attendance in giving Bednar a deserved standing ovation.
Bednar gave up one hit and one walk over six-plus innings, striking out 15 batters on 108 pitches, a Mississippi State College World Series record for strikeouts.
For Texas batters, Bednar’s departure hardly marked an improvement in circumstances, as right-hander Landon Sims entered the game and only needed two pitches to strike out Melendez. In the season opener, Sims had pitched 4.0 innings and struck out 10 Longhorns batters. Despite the struggles in the ninth inning, Sims struck out six over 3.0 innings to earn his 11th save of the season.
In the fourth, Madden struggled with his control and the Mississippi State offense made him pay for it. Madden walked the leadoff batter, who advanced to third on a single, then struck out the next batter with a devastating slider. Against Scotty Dubrule, Madden left a pitch up in the zone and the Bulldog executed with a sacrifice fly to center field to take a 1-0 lead. A hanging slider by Madden to Brad Cumbest was sliced into the right-field corner, with Hodo looking lost trying to make the difficult play, allowing Mississippi State to add the critical second run.
Madden struck out 10 through seven innings and got some help from catcher Silas Ardoin, who threw out two baserunners, including a strike ‘em out, throw ‘em out to end the seventh.
Over 105 pitches, Madden allowed four hits and two earned runs with two walks — he pitched well enough to keep the Longhorns in the game, but with Bednar locked in and Sims able to secure the save, the leadoff walk and the two mistake pitches were ultimately the difference in the game as the Texas bats didn’t get going until the final moments before falling short.
Texas will face Tennessee in an elimination game on Tuesday at 1 p.m. on ESPNU.
“I still have faith in us,” Madden said after the loss. “Y’all should as well.”