OMAHA, Neb. -- Texas wouldn't have wanted anyone other than junior righthanded pitcher Parker French on the mound against Louisville in an elimination game.
After losing its College World Series opener to UC Irvine despite senior righty Nathan Thornhill putting together an impressive performance, the Longhorns entered Monday with their season on the line. Lose to Louisville and UT heads home for the rest of the summer. But win, and the dream of going through the loser's bracket to play for a national title remains a possibility.
French, who has become accustomed to pitching in important contests, tossed yet another gem as the Longhorns stayed alive in Omaha with a 4-1 win over the Cardinals.
"I think the command was there," French said after the game. "They are an aggressive ball team and they started swinging at a lot of early fastballs. And me and Tres [Barrera] talked about it, and we said we might want to start mixing in some sliders to give them something to think about it and make them uncomfortable.
"You have to attack them first before they attack you," he continued. "That was our plan, to stay ahead of them all day."
Louisville typically makes a living offensively on driving opposing pitchers and fielders crazy with an aggressive approach and style. But against French, this usually potent offensive lineup was unable to get into a groove.
The Cardinals didn't get a runner to second base until the third inning, didn't get a runner to third base until the eighth inning, when French was out of the game, and finished the afternoon with very few opportunities to score runs.
Even when the Cardinals had a chance to score some runs, the ballpark, as we've noted on several occasions, wasn't exactly conducive to significant rallies. Down 3-0 in the eighth inning, the Cardinals began the inning with the first two runners reaching base on a walk and hit-by-pitch. However, the Cards elected to sacrifice bunt to move the runners over to second and third base, and the result of the inning was just one run.
"We're down three runs [in the eighth], first and second, and nobody on, and we're sacrifice bunting [because of the ballpark]," Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell said. "I think that says it all."
The top of the Louisville order had a tough afternoon against French and the Texas pitching staff. Terrific outfielder Jeff Gardner culminated a surprisingly rough NCAA postseason with an 0-for-4 performance, while the top four hitters, overall, finished the afternoon a poor 1-for-13.
"He did a great job of pounding the strike zone for the most part," Louisville outfielder Cole Sturgeon said. "We probably chased some pitches we should've have in some big situations with runners on base. It was a pretty tight zone today and we probably didn't do a great job of making them work for everything. We just made it easy on them for a few innings."
French, though, was a big reason why the Cards struggled so much at the plate. His already impressive legacy added another chapter with a strong performance against the Cardinals. After only throwing out of the bullpen in the Big 12 tournament a few weeks ago, the Longhorns put French back in the weekend rotation when lefthanded pitcher Dillon Peters went down with a season-ending arm injury.
Against in-state rival Rice, French struck out six, walked one and allowed just two runs on six hits in six innings on the way to a victory, one that helped propel the Longhorns to an NCAA Super Regional. Then, in the Supers clincher against Houston, French, again, was marvelous, allowing just five hits in six shutout innings.
Known for his hard-nosed and poised attitude, French struck out three and allowed just a run on four hits in 7 1/3 innings of work, while also throwing first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 28 batters he faced, to keep his club alive in the College World Series. He also received plenty of help from his defense, especially shortstop C.J. Hinojosa, who continues to have a strong NCAA postseason.
"You can't have a really well pitched game without some good catching, and I think Tres Barrera did that today," Garrido said. "The game was controlled from our point of view by pitchers Parker French and Travis Duke."
As the Longhorns have all-season long, they relied on Parker French to pitch a gem in a big situation.
French delivered. Again.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Parker French, rhp, Texas
Turning point: Coaches have consistently said if you can get a two or three-run lead at TD Ameritrade Park, it's like getting a six or seven-run lead anywhere else. Well, the Longhorns had a two-run lead over Louisville entering the fifth inning. Texas began the inning with a groundout, then outfielder Mark Payton walked to put a runner on base. Tres Barrera reached on an error by Louisville second baseman Zach Lucas, while C.J. Hinojosa hit what appeared to be a double play ball, but the throw from second to first went wild, allowing Payton to come home and score, extending UT's lead to 3-0. The 'Horns never looked back with righthanded pitcher Parker French on the mound.
Did you know? Louisville starting pitcher Anthony Kidston suffered his first collegiate loss against the Longhorns. He entered the CWS with a 14-0 record over his last two seasons, while the Cardinals were 12-2 with him on the mound this year, and 17-3 during the past two seasons.