Sunday afternoon, No. 22 Texas had a statement to make. Already having won the series, the Longhorns had the opportunity to cement themselves as one of the nation’s top teams with the sweep of 2nd-ranked LSU.
A back-and-forth affair would result in a final inning that ended with a comeback, walk-off single from junior Austin Todd. The hit gave Texas a 7-6 win and the sweep they longed for.
Going into the bottom of the ninth, it seemed as though Texas’ fate was sealed. To win the series over the LSU, the No. 2 team in the country, was impressive, but not awe-inspiring. After playing two phenomenal games, the sweep that Longhorn fans were so desperately hoping for would all but fall flat. Largely due to an error-laden defensive performance, it was clear that Texas would not be able finish the series as they began it.
Then Michael McCann stepped up to the plate to lead off the bottom half of inning. Down by two, the senior put on a performance, but not in the typical way you would expect. On an inside pitch, McCann sold himself as a hit batter. The acting job was good enough to warrant a free base, even at the protest of LSU skipper Paul Mainieri.
“You gotta do what you gotta do,” McCann said.
Senior Masen Hibbeler would follow up McCann with a single to right. Hibbeler, who at one point during the series boasted a sub-.100 batting average, came up big multiple times during the weekend. It seems as though he may be finally seeing some daylight after starting off the season in a horrible slump.
Lance Ford would come off of the bench in place of fellow freshman Bryce Reagan after Hibbeler, and was tasked with laying down a sacrifice bunt. The attempt was perfect as the shallow placement of the bunt just down the third base line would move McCann and Hibbeler over to second and third with ease.
It was junior Duke Ellis’ job now to drive a run home to cut the lead to one. Ellis got a pitch he could handle, but grounded the ball to a deep-playing shortstop. One run would score. Ellis, known for his hustle, flew down the line. His effort would be rewarded as he beat the throw for an infield single, a call that was upheld after further review.
Up to the plate now, with men on the corners, was freshman Eric Kennedy. Kennedy already had a pair of doubles to his name on the day and looked to be seeing the ball better than anyone. His final at-bat wasn’t quite a double, but a ground ball back to the pitcher. The pitcher tried to convert a 1-6-3 double play, but LSU’s shortstop missed second base with his foot and didn’t quite have the power to get the fleet-footed Kennedy out at first.
Meanwhile, Hibbeler would score to tie the game, and the Texas’ two fastest runners were on base, and got on base almost entirely due to their speed.
“Speed kills,” head coach David Pierce said. “I tell (Ellis) and Eric that all the time. Speed kills. Utilize your strength.”
With two men on and one out, junior Austin Todd found himself a familiar position. On Feb. 18, 2018, before his sophomore season fell apart due to injury, Todd hit a walk-off home run against Louisiana-Lafayette. Over a year later, this time against one of the nation’s premier college baseball programs, Todd would have the chance to do it again.
Todd got ahold one and set a low line drive sharply back up the middle. The ball would somehow manage to get past the pitcher and a middle infield playing at double play depth. The ball would roll all the way to the center fielder. Ellis, who wouldn’t have stopped running for an oncoming train, scored the game-winning run to clinch the sweep of No. 2 LSU.
“Coming back from behind like that, we could’ve easily laid over,” Todd said. “Every single guy ahead of us was grinding out at bats just trying to get on. Who knows, if I may have gotten a walk, (sophomore Zach) Zubia may have gotten that hit. So you never know. Just be always ready.”
Texas will likely see a major jump in the rankings after its weekend against LSU. Within the next week, the 22nd-ranked Longhorns could be as high as the top-10 in most polls. Where their placement will be exactly is unknown, but without a doubt, Pierce believes his team is as good as anyone.
“It’s early information, but it proves we can play with anybody in the country,” Pierce said. “We’ve got enough arms. We’ve got a gritty team. And we’re growing. If we don’t build confidence off this, I don’t know what does.”
Texas will play next on Tuesday against UT-Rio Grande Valley at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. First pitch is set for 6:30 P.M.
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