A disastrous sixth inning split by a nearly three-hour weather delay sunk the Texas Longhorns as the Arkansas Razorbacks once again dominated David Pierce’s team, 11-5, this time at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha in a matchup that wasn’t even as close as the score may indicate.
Texas will now face the loser of Sunday evening’s Texas Tech-Florida match up on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Central.
Arkansas took the lead with two outs in the fifth inning after Texas shortstop David Hamilton was unable to make an accurate throw on a potential double-play ball. The next hitter, Luke Bonfield, sent a two-out, two-run home run into the left-field seats to take a 3-2 lead.
In the next frame, things truly came apart for the Longhorns. Starter Nolan Kingham gave up two hard-hit singles and was pulled from the game. Normally reliable, reliever Parker Joe Robinson walked the only two hitters he faced — which accounted for 25 percent of his walks on the season — and Josh Sawyer walked another batter to stretch the Arkansas lead to 5-2.
Lightning and rain delayed the game for almost three hours after Sawyer’s failed appearance. After multiple fans ran on the field and were removed by event staff, Pierce called on starter Chase Shugart to limit the damage.
The gamble didn’t pay off, as Shugart gave up two singles and hit a batter before he was pulled in favor of Kamron Fields.
At that point, eight straight Hogs batters had reached base. Two singles against Fields extended that streak to 10 hitters before Fields recorded two outs. After a full-count walk, Andy McGuire replaced Fields and finally ended the inning.
After it all, Arkansas held an 11-2 lead, marking the second blowout in three games for the Razorbacks against the Longhorns.
The offensive struggles continued for the top of the Longhorns order to lead off the game. David Hamilton popped out in the infield and Duke Ellis flied out to left field — the two hitters have combined to go 2-22 since the start of the Austin Super Regional, with Ellis possessing both of the base hits.
In an increasing trend, Kody Clemens came up to bat with no runners on base and two outs. Arkansas ace Blaine Knight was unwilling to give in by throwing Clemens a fastball, eventually striking out the Texas second basemen following two low strikes with his slider and a swing-and-a miss on the same pitch nearly in the dirt.
Things didn’t go any more positively for the Horns when Kingham took the mound. Leadoff hitter Eric Cole stroked a 2-2 pitch into the left-center gap for a double, but Kingham did respond by striking out Casey Martin with a nasty offspeed pitch of his own.
However, the two-strike issues for Kingham continued, as Huston Kjerstad lined an 0-2 pitch after Hamilton for an RBI single. Following a ground out and an infield single, Kingham managed to get out of the inning on a line drive to left field by the dangerous Casey Shaddy, who was red hot during the Fayetteville Super Regional.
A much-needed single by Zach Zubia to break his own hitless streak nearly led to a two-run home run off the bat of DJ Petrinsky, but the ball was hit to left field right where the fence kinks and deepens. Ultimately, it was just a loud out, and following a nice play at third by Martin against Jake McKenzie, the Horns went down without scoring for a second inning.
At that point, Knight hadn’t even thrown many fastballs, despite its quality — instead, he was relying mostly on his slider, cutting it at times. It was looking like a devastating pitch for him and seemed as if it spelled bad news for the Longhorns.
Kingham quickly got into trouble in the second inning when a one-hopper bounced off of Clemens at second base and a balk followed by a fly out put a runner at third with one out. The Texas starter responded by getting on track by forcing a pop out in foul territory and striking out the next batter.
Despite the fact that Knight looked in control of the game, Tate Shaw worked a fantastic at bat to start the third, fouling off a number of pitches before lacing a slider off his shoelaces to right-center field for a triple. Ryan Reynolds responded with an RBI groundout and Hamilton worked a walk to continue the threat. Unfortunately, Ellis wasn’t able to take advantage of a 2-0 count by flying out and Clemens hit a line drive hard, but playable for the center fielder.
In the fifth, Texas struck again. A strong at bat by Hibbeler resulted in a hard-hit ball the Arkansas shortstop couldn’t handle and Shaw put down a perfect bunt to reach base safely. Pierce then called for Reynolds to execute his second sacrifice bunt of the season with runners on first and second and no outs. Just when it looked like Knight had forced him to swing away with a called strike on a 1-1 pitch, Pierce gambled by asking Reynolds to bunt with two strikes. With the spirit of Augie Garrido smiling down on Omaha, Reynolds came through despite his apparent discomfort throughout the at bat and moved the runners over.
Continuing the string of batters coming through with execution, Hamilton flied out to right field to bring Hibbeler home from third and the Longhorns gained the lead as Kingham seemed to settle in on the mound.
Instead, Kingham struggled to get through the fifth inning and departed after two batters in the sixth. His final line included nine hits allowed and five runs.
Texas struggled to come through with runners on base when the came was still within reach, going 1-11 through the top of the sixth inning with two outs. Five of those at bats came with runners in scoring position. In the sixth, that was particularly troublesome, as a potential double play off the bat of Zubia resulted in an error by the shortstop that moved Zubia to second. Unfortunately, Petrinsky and McKenzie were unable to capitalize, continuing a disturbing trend.
Now Texas faces a difficult road to make any type of mark in Omaha, needing to win four games to reach the finals.
Perhaps there are another win or two left in this group, but it appears as if the run is effectively over. Still, that reality shouldn’t diminish the reality that this team out-performed expectations just to reach to College World Series.
The long-term future still looks bright, despite the major blow to short-term hopes.