Texas Longhorns reliever Cole Quintanilla was sensational through most of his 3.1 innings in relief, but a 1-2 hit by pitch, stolen base, and a single by defensive replacement Tanner Leggett allowed the Mississippi State Bulldogs to win in walk-off fashion in a 4-3 victory at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha on Saturday to end a sensational Texas season.
It was the only lead of the game for the Bulldogs and the only loss of the season for Quintanilla.
With bullpen arms like Tanner Witt and Aaron Nixon either not available or likely not available, Quintanilla had his longest outing of the season and pitched incredibly well until the hit by pitch that led to the walk-off hit.
In the sixth, starter Tristan Stevens had worked hard to get the leadoff hitter out, but conceded a walk on a 3-2 count and a single to put runners on first and third with no outs. A double on a chopper down the third-base line tied the game and chased Stevens from the game with runners on second and third. Simply put, the decision by Texas head coach David Pierce to leave Stevens in following his struggles in the fifth inning did not pay off for the Longhorns. At the least, Pierce left Stevens in one batter too long, a decision likely made more difficult by the bullpen demands over the previous several games.
Quintanilla walked the first batter he faced on a full count to load the bases. With the infield playing in, a weak grounder allowed third baseman Cam Williams to get the force out at the plate and Quintanilla used his off-speed pitches to get back-to-back strikeouts.
No inherited runners scored on Quintanilla since April 13 against Nevada.
Against Mississippi State ace Will Bednar, who had a strong outing, but didn’t quite have the same dominant stuff he did last Sunday against Texas, the Horns took an early lead.
Designated hitter Ivan Melendez led off the second with a four-pitch walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Mitchell Daly. Down 0-2 in the count, Williams was able to accomplish a difficult feat — catching up to a high fastball from Bednar with a short, quick stroke, driving the ball over the right-field fence to take a 2-0 lead.
Stevens gave up a leadoff double in the third inning when Kennedy wasn’t able to make a diving play down the left-field line. Trying to advance the runner to third, Mississippi State bunted, but Zubia was playing in so far that he forced an unproductive out. With so many left-handed batters for the Bulldogs, Stevens had to rely heavily on his changeup. Unfortunately, Stevens couldn’t escape the leadoff double with a single up the middle by Tanner Allen on a high slider that didn’t have much bite.
The fourth inning went more smoothly, a 1-2-3 frame that only required six pitches from Stevens, including a nasty slider in the dirt to strike out Jacob Tanner on three pitches.
Right fielder Douglas Hodo III caught a hanging slider from Bednar to lead off the fifth and doubled into the left-center gap. Faltine wasn’t able to advance Hodo and catcher Silas Ardoin grounded out to second. Antico came through, however, lashing a two-out double into the right-center gap to score Hodo and extend the lead to 3-1.
So even though Bednar struck out seven through five innings, he didn’t have the same live action on his fastball as he had last Sunday, allowing the Longhorns better opportunities. Texas only had four hits against him, but three were for extra bases.
Stevens gave up another leadoff double in the fifth, prompting some action in the Texas bullpen from Quintanilla and left-hander Lucas Gordon. After getting ahead of the next batter, Stevens went to the changeup one too many times and Kellum Clark hit a soft liner over Daly at second base. The runner scored from third on a double play.
Texas had a chance to take the lead in the ninth against star reliever Landon Sims, but couldn’t quite execute.
Melendez took a fastball off his elbow on a 3-2 count to lead off the ninth and left in favor of pinch runner Dylan Campbell, who advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Daly. Williams and Hodo both hit balls well, Williams nearly to the warning track in left and Hodo to the warning track in right, but neither ball had the carry that Williams got earlier on his home run.
With the walk-off heroics from the Bulldogs, the Longhorns ended the season narrowly missing a chance to play for the national championship, but battled until the season’s last swing, proving that the margin between Texas and the nation’s best teams was a small one.
The upcoming MLB Draft will help determine the upside of next season’s team. What this season proved, though, particularly winning three straight elimination games in the College World Series, is that Pierce has this program on the right track.