OMAHA, Neb. -- There's no greater constant for Texas than senior righthanded pitcher Nathan Thornhill. He simply won't be denied.
With the Longhorns staring into the face of elimination against Vanderbilt on Friday, they turned to Thornhill, as they've done so many times this season. Beat the Commodores and the Longhorns force a second game with Tim Corbin's club on Saturday. Lose and this magical run is over.
So, the Longhorns handed Thornhill the ball and he did the rest, setting the tone early and showing a lot of poise on the way to an impressive 4-0 victory to stay alive in the College World Series.
"I thought it was a dominating performance and I do think they were trying to run his pitch count up because of the heat and trying to get him out of the game," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "I think that was an accurate observation. Both Skip and I thought the same thing and passed on the information to Nathan, and he has the command where he can capitalize on something like that."
Thornhill has been a consistent staple for the Longhorns throughout the postseason. He dominated Texas A&M in an NCAA Regional to begin the postseason, he was great against Houston in the Austin Super Regional, and even in a losing cause to UC Irvine in the first game here in Omaha, he allowed just two runs in 7 1/3 innings, hardly his fault for the loss.
Once again, with the season on the line, he was magnificent despite his pitch count getting relatively high early in the contest. Thornhill didn't allow an extra-base hit against the Commodores, and he was dominant in the middle innings, retiring eight-straight hitters at one point before exiting the game after eight innings with a commanding 4-0 lead.
"Well, this is who he is [stepping up]. I mean, this is why he came back, and this is who he is," Garrido said. "He doesn't lead by telling other people what to do. He leads by doing it himself. He leads by example. He has a very fine skill set and he was a quarterback in high school, so he's used to leadership and being committed."
Thornhill's postseason domination and consistency continues to be something to savor for Garrido and the Longhorns. Thornhill has struck out 19, walked six and allowed just five runs in 29 1/3 postseason innings. Meanwhile, his postseason earned-run average dropped to 1.53 and he's now allowed just two or fewer runs in 15 of his 16 starts this season. Thornhill sat his typical 88-91 with his fastball, while also flashing a sharp 79 mph curveball with good depth throughout the afternoon.
"I think he was expanding the plate pretty well. It seemed like when he was getting a call on the outer half of the plate he was able to go back out there again and maybe a couple of inches more," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "When you just chip the ball up in the air, there's not much you can do. We didn't have much success and you can't applaud fly balls here, and unfortunately we hit a few."
While Thornhill shined for the Longhorns, the Commodores were unable to get into a groove the entire afternoon. The day started on a negative note early in the morning when it was announced third baseman Xavier Turner was suspended for the remainder of the College World Series because he broke NCAA rules.
The woes continued in the game, as the Commodores were unable to make two diving plays in the second inning, leading to a pair of Texas runs. Meanwhile, sophomore righthanded pitcher Tyler Ferguson sat 93-95 with his fastball, but just couldn't command the zone, walking two and allowing two runs and a hit in just 2/3 innings of work, obviously his shortest outing of the season.
"Obviously, he just couldn't handle the moment at the time, and that's too bad because the kid deserves better," Corbin said. "He works very hard, and he's got great stuff and you didn't see Tyler Ferguson today. But that's okay, there are opportunities.
This is a game to move on from," he continued. "That's all it is. It's another nine-inning game."
The second meeting between the Longhorns and Commodores should be another dandy. Texas will go with righthanded pitcher Parker French, while the Commodores are answering with staff ace and righthanded pitcher Carson Fulmer, who has been very sharp over the past few weeks.
Something must give with two strong, consistent, arms on the mound Saturday.
"They're very good, and they've got very good pitchers," Garrido said. "But this game at the college level, my mind says the bigger the game, the more momentum determines results."
If that truly is the case, advantage Texas.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Nathan Thornhill, rhp, Texas
Turning point: The Longhorns made Vanderbilt pay for some early mistakes in the contest. Vandy starting pitcher Tyler Ferguson really struggled early, walking two batters, hitting two batters and allowing two runs in the first inning. That wasn't the turning point, though. With the wind blowing in at TD Ameritrade Park, Texas delivered the knockout punch in the second inning by scoring two more runs, one via an RBI triple by Brooks Marlow and the other an error on Vandy pitcher Brian Miller, though Texas outfielder Mark Payton could've easily been credited with a hit as he almost outran Miller to first base on a rather difficult play.
Did you know? Texas righthanded pitcher Nathan Thornhill has been terrific throughout the NCAA postseason for the Longhorns. Thornhill, a senior from Cedar Park, Texas, just outside of Austin, has now made four postseason starts, tossing 29 1/3 innings, striking out 19, walking six and allowing five runs and 25 hits. Thornhill came back to Texas to lead the program back to Omaha. Now, he's put Texas in a position to potentially reach the CWS Championship Series.