AUSTIN, Texas -- Nathan Thornhill pitched seven solid innings, fellow senior Mark Payton hit a two-run homer and Texas moved within a victory of returning to the College World Series by beating Houston 4-2 on Friday.

''This is where this program belongs,'' Thornhill said. ''We wanted to be a part of getting it back.''

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Thornhill, a right-hander, allowed two runs and seven hits for Texas, which is trying for its record 35th appearance in the College World Series after missing out on Omaha, Nebraska, the past two years. Payton had three hits, connecting in the first inning for his second home run in 415 at-bats.

''We just haven't seen any go out of this park ever. So you just hold your breath,'' Texas head coach Augie Garrido said of Payton's homer, just the fifth by the Longhorns in 32 home games this year. ''The two seniors that decided to come back kind of led the way, didn't they?''

Game 2 of the Super Regional is Saturday.

Payton and Thornhill were picked in the 16th and 24th rounds of Major League Baseball's draft last year, but chose to return. Their reason: a desire to help the Longhorns return to the College World Series, where they haven't been since their freshman seasons.

''It took four months of begging on my part,'' Garrido joked.

The Longhorns (42-19) made it 4-0 by the time Houston (48-16) scored its only two runs in the fifth, starting the inning with three consecutive singles off Thornhill.

''He was outstanding,'' Houston head coach Todd Whitting said of Thornhill. ''When you get a guy going against you who can throw all three pitches for strikes in any counts he wants, it makes it tough on your hitters. He didn't give us a whole lot of room for error.''

Cougars starter Jake Lemoine was tagged for four runs in 4.2 innings and dropped to 1-7 with a 4.56 ERA in his past nine starts.

''We're backed in a corner right now,'' Houston designated hitter Justin Montemayor said. ''We've backed in a corner a bunch this season and we'll look to do that again.''