As has been the case for the majority of the season, Texas responded with their backs against the wall. Facing elimination and going against Tennessee Tech’s ace Travis Moths, the Longhorns pieced together just enough offense and received a great performance on the mound from Chase Shugart and Blair Henley to force a decisive game 3 Monday afternoon. The 4-2 win featured what has carried Texas for most of the postseason, clutch pitching and the big bat of Kody Clemens.
The Longhorns and Golden Eagles will square off again tomorrow at noon with a trip to the College World Series on the line. Here are some thoughts and takeaways from a season saving win at the Disch:
- Chase Shugart has elevated his game in the postseason, and he showed it again Sunday afternoon. The right-hander tossed 6 innings, allowing 1 unearned run while striking out 5 and walking 5. Although the command wavered at times and he was only able to make it through 6, Shugart was able to shut down the best offense in the country.
- “It was a great pitching performance by Chase (Shugart), there’s no doubt. He put us in the position to win, to give us an opportunity.”-David Pierce on his starter
- During the 6th inning, action began in the Texas bullpen. Parker Joe Robinson and Blair Henley both started throwing. Yesterday, I said I would not be surprised if Pierce turned to Henley at some point today, and he ended up doing exactly that. Henley came in to start the 7th and besides allowing a lead-off home run on the first pitch he threw to David Garza, was really effective. The sophomore recorded the first save of his career on only 39 pitches, likely making him available tomorrow.
- “Well, this is the thing, there’s no tomorrow if we don’t win today. It makes no sense to me to have our next best guy sitting in the bullpen and then we’d never get to him, for the simple fact that we’re waiting on playing him tomorrow. We had an opportunity to win and we went for it. Plus, he gives Parker Joe (Robinson) and Josh (Sawyer) some rest. I knew he was fresh, I knew his stuff would play and it was the right decision for us.”-Pierce on the decision to go to Henley
- Texas has done an excellent job of putting up runs in the first inning during the NCAA Tournament, and they did again in game 2. David Hamilton worked a lead-off walk and eventually scored on a 2-out double by Kody Clemens to give Texas an early 1-0 lead.
- Oh, and Kody Clemens homered again. The 3rd round pick of the Detroit Tigers blasted his 23rd home run of the season in the 3rd innings, giving Texas a 3-1 lead. Clemens belted a pitch fastball from Travis Moths over the RF wall. Later in the game, Tennessee Tech intentionally walked Clemens with a base open, opting to face Zach Zubia with the bases loaded. Golden Eagles head coach Matt Bragga joked after the game that they may intentionally walk Clemens every time he comes up to bat tomorrow.
- “Early in the game we were willing to see what would happen there. We would not walk him and put runners on that early in the game. Late in the game, obviously we’re going to walk him there. But in the first 3, 4, 5 innings we’re doing everything we can do to attack guys. And he beat us- good job. The double, the home run, the young man is a great player, that is why he is up for the Golden Spikes Award. Maybe tomorrow we’ll walk him every time we face him tomorrow. I mean this kindly, but the guy is an animal, I just don’t see the weaknesses right now. He’s as good as we’ve seen all year, this park plays fairly big, and he’s popping them out of here like it’s a cracker jack box.”- Tennessee Coach Matt Bragga on choosing to pitch to Clemens
- David Pierce opted to shake the lineup up prior to game 2, moving up Jake McKenzie from the 9 spot to the 6 spot, and dropping Ryan Reynolds from 6 to 9. The result? McKenzie collected another double and Reynolds collected his first hit of the weekend with a RBI bloop double in the second inning. Despite Reynolds struggles at the plate, Texas had to keep in the field because of his defense. The move down in the order made sense and Pierce was rewarded with his decision.
Looking ahead tomorrow
- Tennessee Tech has already announced their starter, LHP Alex Hursey. Hursey is 8-4 on the season with a 4.52 ERA. In last weekend’s Oxford Regional, Hursey turned in a complete game win against Missouri State in an elimination game.
- Despite Hursey getting the start, it would not be surprising to see closer Ethan Roberts throw the most of any Golden Eagles pitcher tomorrow. Roberts threw 56 pitches on Saturday and received Sunday off. He has been used as a multiple inning guy the entire season, and Monday will be no different. Last weekend, Roberts threw 47 pitches on Saturday before coming back to throw 107 pitches in a start on Monday. The 4th round pick of the Chicago Cubs and his nasty cutter will be leaned on heavily.
- David Pierce did not announce a starter. As mentioned above, expected game 3 starter Blair Henley threw 39 pitches out of the bullpen. Henley will likely still be available tomorrow, but it may not be in a starting role.
- So where does that leave Texas? David Pierce could go a number of different directions. He mentioned after the game that he needed to look at the matchups before determining a starter. Kamron Fields and Matteo Bocchi both seem like logical choices, and both have starting experience at some point this season. Bryce Elder is another option, but he has not thrown yet in the NCAA Tournament. Elder possesses a nasty cutter and when he commands it, he has no problems retiring hitters. Regardless of who starts, it will be an all-hands-on-deck game for the Longhorns. Pierce said every pitcher is available, even if it’s for just a batter. Nolan Kingham and Chase Shugart have experience as relievers, and Kingham in particular could be an intriguing arm to bring in at some point. The right-hader has been up to 98 MPH out of the bullpen.