OMAHA, Neb. -- Lost in the hoopla in wake of the first home run of the 2014 College World Series on Wednesday night was a masterpiece from Texas pitcher Chad Hollingsworth.
(Yes, there was a round-tripper at TD Ameritrade Park – the first in 115 innings of CWS play, dating to June 21, 2013 – and C.J Hinojosa’s laser over the left-field wall was the only scoring in the Longhorns’ 1-0 victory. But enough about that …)
Hollingsworth pitched 8.1 innings and scattered four hits as Texas eliminated UC Irvine and advanced to face Vanderbilt at 3 p.m. ET Friday. It will be the Longhorns’ third consecutive win-or-go-home game in this CWS.“[Hollingsworth] was mixing pitches really, really well,” said UCI’s Connor Spencer, who went 2-for-4. “He was definitely working both sides of the plate, and the curveball was setting up his fastball really, really nicely. So when he was throwing that curveball and backing it up with the fastball, the fastball was getting in on us. It just kind of threw us off balance, and we really couldn’t get on to that fastball the way we would have liked to.
“I thought we hit the ball – we had a couple that were scorched, no question. But the defense was behind him, and he pitched a great game. So, you know, that’s baseball.”
Wednesday night was Hollingsworth’s second start of the season (he tossed a two-hitter against Texas A&M on June 2) and he followed the Texas blueprint: throw strikes and let the defense make plays – none as sparkling as Mark Payton’s diving grab in right center in the bottom of the third inning. Hollingsworth coaxed UCI into 10 ground-ball outs, nine fly outs and struck out five.
“I think the story line certainly has to center around Hollingsworth pitching,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “He not only did the same kind of a job in the Super Regional, but once again when given the ball, he threw up all zeroes.
“He does that by following what Coach [Skip] Johnson wants all his pitchers to do, and Travis [Duke] did the same thing. That is, just keep it simple – hit the mitt. [Hollingsworth] got a very good defensive play out of his team behind him, which we’ve been able to do throughout the tournament so far, both in the outfield and the infield.”
The shutout was the record 21st of the 2014 NCAA tournament, eclipsing the mark set in 2011, and was the seventh 1-0 shutout of the postseason, which also is a record.
“This is a tough loss, of course, as you would well imagine,” UC Irvine coach Mike Gillespie said. “Hollingsworth did a great job, and it’s apparent that he’s done a great job for them all year, but certainly in these two last critical starts that he’s made for them.
“I mean, Texas was virtually mistake‑free, and Payton, of course, was a difference-maker in this game. … That’s a catch we'll see tonight later on, tomorrow morning, all day long, we'll see more of that catch than we even want to. We've seen enough of it, actually, but it was a spectacular, big‑time play and a difference-maker – the difference-maker, quite frankly.”
For Payton, the catch was the result of learning from experience and executing the game plan.
“I saw it off the bat well and I just got a good jump and tried to run to the spot,” said Payton, a seventh-round draft choice of the New York Yankees. “I knew the wind was blowing to left field, kind of in from right center. … So I figured do whatever I can to catch the ball.
“We kind of made an adjustment [Wednesday] by playing [UCI’s Taylor] Sparks deeper than in the first game; he burned us in left field. So just got a good jump, took a good route and made the catch.”
It proved to be the pivotal play in just the second game in the past 27 years in which both teams were scoreless through six innings.
“It’s not that hard when you have probably the best defense in the country,” Hollingsworth said. “I mean, you really just throw to the mitt. I’m not up there striking people out every time. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to get 10 Ks. I just throw the mitt.
“C.J made big plays. Mark made that big play that probably changed the whole game, and the rest of my defense made plays and that’s all I can ask of them. That’s what they've been doing all year.”
Duke closed the game for the Longhorns after Hollingsworth yielded a lead off hit in the ninth before getting the first out of the frame. Collectively, UT held UCI to 0-for-12 with runners on base.
The game lowered the Longhorns’ postseason ERA to 1.21, tops among remaining CWS contenders, and a .208 batting average-against, which is fourth-best in Omaha.
Garrido said Hollingworth’s late-season successes as a starter were part of a larger plan. “I thought we were kind of saving his arm for a more important time. We finished fifth in the conference and made our sacrifices there and decided that we wouldn’t really unveil our secret weapon until a later date. The Super Regional, of course, was kind of risky, waiting that long – but it’s paid off.”
He was only half-joking.