OMAHA, Neb. – Pitching and defense. It’s what propelled the Longhorns to be one of the final three teams remaining in college baseball. Saturday night, the latter failed them against Vanderbilt to lead the Commodores into the sport’s final two spots in the CWS Finals.
Tyler Campbell’s infield single on a weak grounder to shortstop with the bases loaded, scored Rhett Wiseman from third to give Vanderbilt a 4-3 win in 10 innings and a date with Virginia on Monday in Game 1 of the final series. It was the fourth walk-off of the CWS, the most since 1960.
A defense so stellar during the College World Series failed the Longhorns, committing three errors – two by third baseman Zane Gurwitz – for the first time since June 1 against Texas A&M.
The winning coach agreed.
“I'm not going to sit here and tell you I think we deserved to win that game, but there were several happenings on the field where I thought a couple of inches here or there were difference‑makers for us,” Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin said.
Gurwitz had a tough night at the hot corner, making his second error in as many innings to open the third inning on a Vince Conde ground ball that he couldn’t corral. Four batters later, Conde took off for third on a double steal and catcher Tres Barrera’s throw sailed high and into leftfield to allow Conde to score the Commdores’ second run.
At the time, Texas had three errors. Vanderbilt had a 2-0 lead.
Extra innings had been so kind to the Longhorns in 2014, winning all five games that went to extra frames before the season-ending loss. But this one will sting for a long time, not only because of the defensive miscues, but continuing a trend of leaving runners on base.
Texas left 32 runners on base in its first four CWS games. Saturday saw the Longhorns leave 10 more on the basepaths, including seven in scoring position. Kacy Clemens tied the game at 2-2 with a two-run single – breaking a 1-for-14 CWS slump -- in the fourth inning. Texas looked like it was in position to take a lead in the next frame as well.
Three consecutive walks with one out chased Vanderbilt starter Carson Fulmer. In came Hayden Stone to face Ben Johnson, and on the first pitch Johnson grounded into a 5-4-3, inning-ending double play.
“New pitcher came in and he did his job,” Texas shortstop C.J Hinojosa said. “He threw a good pitch and [Johnson] tried to put a good swing on it -- aggressive at‑bat. It just didn't go our way.”
Texas’ top three batters in the lineup – Brooks Marlow, Madison Carter and Mark Payton – combined to go 0-for-13 with five strikeouts. It was the bottom of the order which, for a while, looked like it would propel the Longhorns into their 13th championship series, even after Vanderbilt took a 3-2 lead in the fifth inning.
Fittingly, the two Longhorns to commit errors earlier in the game combined to tie it in the top of the sixth. Barrerra tripled to open the frame and Gurwitz singled him home. Gurwitz moved to second on a failed pick-off attempt with one out and the top of the order poised to give Texas its first lead. But Marlow and Carter struck out.
Hinojosa – in the middle of everything for Texas in Omaha – was at it again in the late innings. Leading off the 10th inning, he put a charge into a ball that surely looked like extra bases. Vanderbilt rightfielder Rhett Wiseman had other ideas, tracking it perfectly into the gap and sliding on the warning track to rob Hinojosa. Another couple feet and Texas would’ve been in business. It was just that kind of night.
“I squared it up – it was probably the best pitch that I saw all day,” Hinojosa said. “Probably the best swing I had all day. And off the bat I did think it was over his head. He's a good outfielder. He tracked it well and made a great play on it.”
And then came the doom in the bottom of the inning. A pitching staff that entered the game with a CWS shutout string of 19 innings and hadn’t allowed a baserunner to reach third base since Tuesday until Saturday’s first inning, had a couple of miscues at the most inopportune time.
Closer John Curtiss breezed through the first two batters of the inning. Flashes of another 15-inning stalemate crossed everyone’s mind – until it all unraveled rather quickly. Wiseman laced a two-out single and then stole second base. Pinch hitter Ro Coleman walked and Karl Ellison was plunked in the shoulder on a first-pitch miss to load the bases. Up came Campbell, only playing third base for Vandy because Xavier Turner was unavailable due to violating NCAA regulations.
Campbell chopped a slow roller to shortstop. In came Hinojosa, who had made so many plays all week long. The player leading the CWS in assists (26) would get Texas to the 11th – he’d made almost every play on every ball hit his way. Except his throw was a step too late. Campbell beat it out for his third RBI of the season in just his third start. Baseball can be one of the cruelest of games.
“The separation in the last inning, C.J's ball gets caught, prevents the run, they hit a ball, don't square it up, and they beat it out at first with the bases loaded and that's the difference,” Garrido said. “So it's hard to explain, man. It's a cruel game.”