In the championship game of the Austin NCAA baseball regional, everything was on the line for both the Texas Longhorns and the Indiana Hoosiers. The home fans, representing their Longhorns, were decked out in burnt orange and white, on their feet clapping, chanting, and cheering. The bases were loaded for the Hoosiers in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs, Indiana trailing 3–2.
Matt Lloyd, the Hoosiers’ first baseman, was at bat facing a 3–2 count. Then Longhorn pitcher Chase Shugart fired a pitch that sailed right above Lloyd’s bat, striking him out and sending the Longhorns to the Super Regional round, one step closer to the College World Series in Omaha.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Kody Clemens, who earned regional MVP after hitting seven RBIs and batting .342. “We worked all through the fall for this type of environment, this type game.”
On Friday, the regional started with Texas A&M handling Indiana 10–3 and then Texas shutting out Texas Southern 10–0. That put both Texas Southern and Indiana into an elimination match-up, a game that Indiana won 6–0 on a scorching Saturday afternoon. Following that game, the Aggies and the Longhorns renewed their rivalry in a thriller. The biggest highlight of that 8–3 win for the Horns, which put them in the regional championship game, was two home runs from Clemens. On Sunday afternoon, Indiana put up nine runs in the first inning against A&M and held on 9–7.
Finally, it was down to the championship game between Texas and Indiana, with a spot in a Super Regional on the line. The crowd was already ramped up before the game started, and as Texas took the infield, the team seemed relaxed despite the importance of the game. “We just had to stay loose; this is where the fun begins,” said Clemens.
Texas got going early with a Masen Hibbeler walk to lead off the second, and Tate Shaw doubled to score Hibbeler. Then, in the top of the third, Indiana pitcher Andrew Saalfrank struck out the side. That must have given his teammates confidence because they broke through with their first hit of the game in the bottom on the inning and scored two runs, the first on an RBI single by shortstop Jeremy Houston and the second on another RBI single up the middle by Luke Miller to score Justin Walker.
The game was a pitcher’s duel between Saalfrank and UT’s Blair Henley until Longhorns freshman slugger Zach Zubia belted a solo home run over the leftfield fence to tie the game 2–2 in the sixth inning. Texas regained the lead on a Clemens double that scored speedy David Hamilton all the way from first. In the bottom of that inning, Indiana faced a frustrating moment: A hard-hit Matt Gorski line drive bounced over the wall in leftfield, making his powerful hit a ground rule double and keeping Luke Miller at third.
“It’s the game of baseball,” said Indiana coach Chris Lemonis. “Sometimes you get a good bounce and sometimes you don’t.”
Indiana’s rally to load the bases in the ninth ended with back-to-back strikeouts, and the Longhorns were headed to the next round. They’ll host Tennessee Tech in a best-of-three series beginning this Saturday.
“It was definitely my most exciting game,” said Henley, who struck out eight batters in 7.1 innings. For many at UFCU Disch-Falk field on Sunday, it was the most exciting game they’d seen in several years: The Longhorns haven’t made it to a Super Regional since 2014, when they went all the way to the College World Series.
Said Lemonis, “In the one game we played them, you saw some power arms, and if you can play defense with power arms, you can play a long time.”
Photograph courtesy of Texas Sports