The Texas Longhorns exorcised some significant demons in a 8-5 win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs from late Friday into Saturday morning at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha to extend the College World Series stay for the Longhorns.
For a Texas team trying to reach the CWS finals, the victory was both necessary and the first time the Longhorns overcame the Bulldogs in three tries this season.
After taking a 5-2 lead into the eighth inning, a rare bullpen meltdown by the Horns allowed the Bulldogs back into the game with three runs, setting up a key ninth inning for Texas.
Center fielder Mike Antico drew a walk on five pitches, putting left fielder Eric Kennedy in position to move Antico to second with a sacrifice bunt. First baseman Zach Zubia came to the plate as the Bulldogs made another pitching change with rain approaching the stadium once again. As it started to fall at TD Ameritrade, Zubia worked a full-count walk, bringing up Melendez.
Coming out of a massive slump that featured some better competitiveness and some better results in the last two games, the Texas slugger got to 3-2 himself, forcing Mississippi State pitcher Parker Stinnett to throw a pitch in the zone or risk loading the bases to allow Mitchell Daly a chance to come through for the Horns.
Stinett was aggressive enough to throw a low fastball to Melendez and Melendez did not miss, crushing a no-doubt home run over the left-center fence. For the player known as the Hispanic Titanic and the Latino Bambino thanks to his remarkable power surge in April with seven home runs in six games, Melendez unquestionably broke out of his slump with one of the most iconic swings in Texas baseball history.
Following another long rain delay, Texas closer Aaron Nixon was able to close out the game in the ninth despite allowing two baserunners, setting up a decisive contest between the Longhorns and the Bulldogs on Saturday for a berth in the finals.
Melendez wasn’t the only slugger who carried over a strong performance against Virginia into the game against Mississippi State.
Zubia’s three-run double carried over into Friday’s game as he showed more aggressiveness than usual in swinging at the second pitch he saw and driving it over the right-field wall in the first inning.
Mississippi State didn’t need long to tie the game — Rowdey Jordan singled to lead off the inning, Texas shortstop Trey Faltine was lucky to get the batter at first after he booted what looked like a sure double play, then another single scored Jordan from second. A one-out walk put runners on first and second and another single gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead.
Texas starter Ty Madden’s velocity was in his normal range with his fastball, but he was missing high with it and his slider was more flat than usual, prompting a mound visit and stirrings in the Texas bullpen. After a better slider to get ahead, Madden finally got the necessary double play to get out of the inning without further damage.
With Mississippi State’s Houston Harding using his changeup and curveball away almost exclusively, Daly singled to lead off the second on a 1-2 pitch and right fielder Douglas Hodo III singled on an 0-2 pitch. Faltine battled to foul off several pitches before sneaking up in the batter’s box and hammering a line-drive sacrifice fly to left field after the runners advanced on a double steal early in the at bat.
Madden settled in with a more efficient second inning, facing only four batters. By the third, Madden’s slider was once again inducing ugly swings as he cruised through 1-2-3 frame, then worked around a walk in the fourth before retiring the Bulldogs in order again in the fifth. Even as Madden’s fastball didn’t have its normal velocity, sitting more in the low 90s, he was able to locate it effectively and his slider was simply devastating.
Ty Madden, Filthy Breaking Ball. pic.twitter.com/ZHTVxyTatR— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 26, 2021
Meanwhile, Harding hit a groove, too, retiring eight straight Longhorns between the second and fourth innings before walking Hodo on four pitches to open the fifth. Faltine moved Hodo to second on a sacrifice bunt and Ardoin drew a walk before center fielder Mike Antico scored Hodo on a single to center.
A strikeout of Kennedy ended Harding’s evening after 4.2 innings having allowed three runs on four hits with four strikeouts and two walks.
As Mississippi State reliever Preston Johnson entered the game, Zubia was able to lay off two good sliders to work a 2-1 count, but just missed a hanging slider on a flyout that ended the inning. Johnson got away with another poor slider as Melendez skied a ball to short left field before escaping the inning with no more damage than a two-out walk.
A leadoff walk looked dangerous in the sixth as Madden’s pitch count became elevated, but a groundout and a strikeout relieved some pressure. Scotty Dubrule thought he was hit by the first pitch of his at bat, a belief not sustained by video review, as Madden went over 100 pitches. A groundout to second base ended the frame.
Faltine reached second leading off the seventh when Jordan lost a routine fly ball in the lights and encroaching dusk, providing the Longhorns with a big opportunity to add an insurance run. A strikeout looking of Ardoin on eight pitches was the last batter Johnson faced.
On a 3-1 pitch that missed inside and escaped from the Mississippi State catcher, Faltine advanced to third and scored when Antico stayed back and dropped the head of his bat on a 3-2 slider, singling to center again.
A four-pitch walk to Kennedy prompted another pitching change with one out and runners on first and second. Antico was thrown out at third on a double steal, but Zubia drew a walk to bring Melendez to the plate. Melendez responded with a sharp line drive to left field to add a fifth run for the Horns.
Melendez finished 2-for-5 with the home run and RBI to drive in four of the eight runs for the Horns.
Right-hander Tanner Witt can on in relief of Madden to start the seventh inning. Over 102 pitches, Madden went 6.0 innings, allowing two runs on four hits with eight strikeouts and three walks. Considering the short rest, big stage, and struggles in the first inning, it was a superb performance by the Texas ace.
Witt looked like he would cruise through the seventh with three groundouts until a throwing error from Faltine on a routine play extended the inning, but Witt simply induced another groundout, getting ahead with good changeups and then jamming Jordan with a good fastball.
The rails came off in the eighth for Witt and the Longhorns. A 1-2 double by Tanner Allen led off the inning before Witt got an out, but Witt walked the next three batters as his control completely failed him. Pierce made the call to closer Aaron Nixon, who gave up a hard single that scored two and walked a runner to load the bases with two outs before escaping the jam with a popout to Ardoin in foul territory.
But the heroics from Melendez erased those struggles and Nixon did enough to afford Texas the chance to make up for last Sunday’s struggles against Mississippi State ace Will Bednar on Saturday. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Central on ESPN2.