Omaha, Neb. -- Legendary Texas head coach Augie Garrido always says expect the unexpected.
I would imagine times like Wednesday night's 1-0 elimination game win over UC Irvine are why he constantly utters that phrase.
Just a night before in the press conference room, the lack of homers at TD Ameritrade Park was the primary topic of discussion, with TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle calling the outcome of his game and the ballpark, directly, a "travesty for college baseball". Then, as the Longhorns and Anteaters were tied 0-0 in the middle innings, the college baseball community looking down the barrel of another low-scoring affair, ESPN did a live interview with NCAA Director of Baseball Damani Leech, asking him pointed, tough, questions about the status of the ball, ballpark, and more. In not so surprising fashion, Damani was smooth and answered those tough questions like a pro.
Damani's interview and the whole ball, bat, ballpark debate finally took a backseat in the seventh inning when Texas shortstop C.J. Hinojosa led off the inning. Hinojosa has been smoking hot offensively in the NCAA postseason, and has certainly been known for his slick defense throughout the postseason. However, his forte coming into the game wasn't exactly power.
Or, maybe it is, now. Hinojosa had a whopping one home run entering the College World Series, that home run coming way back on April 11 on the road against Oklahoma. But on this stage, staring directly into the face of elimination, Hinojosa sent a laser beam down the left-field line, and clearly over the wall. Yep, the CWS's first home run, Texas took a 1-0 lead, and that was all the Longhorns needed the rest of the way, beating the Anteaters to face Vanderbilt for the bracket championship.
"You can do the impossible [in baseball]," Garrido said. "Whatever can't be done, gets done at the most unexpected times. That's what's so cool about it."
Interestingly enough about Hinojosa's home run is that it should've been a no doubter, but because of the tendency for balls to die to all fields, there was plenty of hesitation in the press box, and certainly in the Texas dugout.
"Four players fainted," Garrido jokingly said about the home run. "I had a mild heart attack. I put a long distance call in to get Cinco de Mayo recognized as a national holiday in honor of [CJ] him."
Here are a few nuggets to put into perspective how long it had been since we saw a home run at TD Ameritrade Park until Hinojosa's blast. There had been 115 innings played without a home run, along with 932 at-bats, 3,436 pitches and 672 outs between homers.
"I mean, I didn't think it was very good odds [hitting a home run]," Hinojosa said. "But there are times when the nine-hole hitter does it, and you'd never think he would. I mean, baseball is a game that you don't exactly what's going to happen and you can't predict anything. Same thing could happen any given day at any given time."
One thing we apparently do now know is that Chad Hollingsworth and big games are synonymous.
Hollingsworth, of course, is the righthanded sophomore pitcher who started on the mound for the Longhorns. With the momentum in Texas A&M's corner in the Houston Regional a few weeks ago, the Longhorns turned their fate over to Hollingsworth, who at the time hadn't started a game this season. Well, the righty went out there and dominated A&M, giving Garrido and pitching coach Skip Johnson all the confidence in him in yet another elimination game.
Hollingsworth couldn't have been much better against the Anteaters. He sat upper-80s with his fastball and commanded his secondary offerings well. The righty allowed just two UC Irvine base-runners to reach base, while the Anteaters didn't have an extra-base hit in the contest, thanks in part to Texas center fielder Mark Payton making a beautiful, leaping, play going into right-center field to rob UC Irvine's Taylor Sparks of a likely RBI double or triple. The righty finished the night with five strikeouts, no walks and allowed just four hits in 8 1/3 shutout innings.
Garrido, who was funny and on his game from a quote standpoint, had some good things to say about Hollingsworth.
"I thought we were kind of saving his arm for a more important time," Garrido said about Hollingsworth only having two starts. "We finish fifth in the conference and made our sacrifices there and decided we wouldn't really unveil our secret weapon until a later date. Of course, it was kind of risky waiting that long, but it paid off."
Texas now has the tough chore of needing to beat Vanderbilt twice to advance to the CWS Championship Series, but now has a lot of confidence in the way the starting rotation sets up moving forward. The 'Horns will throw Nathan Thornhill Friday against the Commodores, and Parker French could be available to go on Saturday if need be.
Vanderbilt will have the edge over the Longhorns on Friday, but this Texas team, as it proved once again, won't go down without a fight.
Or, as Augie says, perhaps we should expected the unexpected ... again.
GAME AT A GLANCE
Player of the game: Chad Hollingsworth, rhp, Texas
Turning point: The Longhorns and Anteaters were entangled in quite the pitching duel much of the night, with not only Hollingsworth for the Horns, but also lefty Evan Manarino dealing for the 'Eaters. Manarino did a nice job of pounding the strike zone, striking out seven in 6 1/3 innings. However, the turning point in the game came in the seventh inning, as Texas shortstop C.J. Hinojosa sent a 2-0 pitch from Manarino over the left field wall for a 1-0 lead and the tournament's first home run.
Did you know? The Texas pitching staff has been phenomenal in the NCAA postseason. The Horns only have allowed two runs or less in seven of nine NCAA postseason appearances.