For a record 38th time in school history, the No. 9 seed Texas Longhorns advanced to the College World Series behind a dominating 11-1 win over the No. 8 seed East Carolina Pirates in the Greenville Super Regional on Sunday despite lengthy weather delays.
After a lightning delay that set back the first pitch by about an hour, Texas scored four runs in the first inning, including a three-run home run by first baseman Ivan Melendez, and never relented following another weather delay that lasted for hours.
When both teams returned to the field, the Longhorns scored five more runs in the second inning to put the game out of reach and held on thanks to a legendary performance from right-hander Tristan Stevens.
The sixth-year senior from Missouri didn’t take the mound for the first time until after the long delays and battled the same type of command issues that resulted in his move to the bullpen and short appearances in both of the first two games of the Greenville Super Regional.
But those issues didn’t stop the longtime Longhorn fan who has been willing to do whatever it takes for this Texas team to win. Sinkers and sliders up in the zone were still enough to overmatch East Carolina hitters until Stevens started mixing in more changeups, particularly to the strong Pirates hitters from the left side, and eventually gained enough rhythm to dominate the home team with better location.
When Stevens left the game after pitching 6.0 innings with one earned run allowed on five hits with three walks and five strikeouts, he was a bona-fide Longhorn legend for his effort.
Left to pace the dugout for the final three innings, Stevens watched as right-handers Travis Sthele and Jared Southard closed out the win without allowing a hit.
Before the second weather delay, East Carolina right-hander Danny Beal, who had pitched well in the postseason, didn’t have it on Sunday.
Center fielder Douglas Hodo III led off with an infield single beating the shift by the Pirates, left fielder Eric Kennedy battled to earn a hard-won full-count walk, and Beal fell behind first baseman Ivan Melendez with two breaking balls just up out of the strike zone. Faced with the difficult choice of how to approach the nation’s home run leader behind in the count, East Carolina made the wrong choice — trying to throw a fastball on the inside corner. Melendez wasn’t able to get the ideal extension that produces mammoth blasts, but he was strong enough to power the ball out of Clark-LeClair Stadium just over the leaping left fielder. The 32nd home run by Melendez set the BBCOR record previously held by Kris Bryant.
Beal then hit second baseman Murphy Stehly with a 1-1 pitch, ending his outing without recording an out, giving way to right-hander Trey Yesavage. After a sacrifice bunt by designated hitter Austin Todd, third baseman Skyler Messinger drove in Stehly on a 1-2 pitch up and in when he was able to get his hands inside the ball to drive it into left field for a single to push the lead to 4-0.
When the game finally resumed and moved into the second inning, the Longhorns destroyed any semblance of hope at Clark-LeClair Stadium with a series of strong at bats. There weren’t any spectacular fireworks like the Melendez home runs. Just a single, advance on a passed ball, bunt single, single to center, advance on a wild pitch, intentional walk, double to center, sacrifice fly, and another single.
Texas added to the margin with solo home runs from shortstop Trey Faltine in the fifth and catcher Silas Ardoin in the ninth as the Longhorns pitching staff held up.
With the win, head coach David Pierce’s team will advance to face Notre Dame in the opening game of the College World Series after the Fighting Irish upset the No. 1 seed Volunteers in the third game of the Knoxville Super Regional on Sunday.