OMAHA—Vanderbilt sophomore Tyler Ferguson, owner of a heavy 93-95 mph fastball and a power slider, might be a first-round pick next year. He is supremely talented, but he was a little too amped up in his College World Series debut Friday against Texas, and the Longhorns took advantage of his erratic control to score two runs in the first inning and knock Ferguson out of the game.
That lead seemed like two touchdowns with Nathan Thornhill on the mound for Texas. A 13th-round pick as a senior this year, Thornhill doesn’t get amped up, or rattled, or affected by his surroundings or anything else. He calmly, coolly dissects his opponent, every time out, by hitting his spots with an 88-90 fastball and mixing speeds. Thornhill continued his postseason brilliance—his season-long brilliance, really—by throwing eight shutout innings in Friday’s 4-0 win, forcing a rematch Saturday for a trip to the CWS Finals.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Vandy starter Tyler Ferguson was wild from his first pitch of the game—which hit Brooks Marlow. After a walk and another hit batsman, Texas had the bases loaded with no outs. Still, Ferguson nearly escaped without allowing any runs. He struck out Tres Barrera, then induced a likely double-play ball—but it hit second-base umpire Mark Uyl for a dead-ball single. Ferguson walked in another run and exited the game, and Vandy never gained any momentum from that point forward.
The Hero: Nathan Thornhill earned his third win of the NCAA tournament by holding Vanderbilt scoreless on six hits over eight innings. He was in complete throughout his outing, allowing just three baserunners to reach second and none to reach third.
You Might Have Missed: Texas became the first team to throw back-to-back shutouts at the College World Series since Oregon State in 2006. The Longhorns have allowed just four runs in their first four CWS games, tied for third-fewest in CWS history.
Thornhill scattered six hits and walked just one while striking out five. He allowed just three baserunners to reach second and none to reach third. Only once did Vandy even have multiple baserunners on at the same time. Thornhill simply smothered the Commodores, minimizing free bases and inducing loads of weak contact.
“I really think you’ve got to give some credit to Thornhill,” Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. “I thought he pitched well. That ERA is low for a reason, and he’s a senior, and he knows what he’s doing. He’s very composed, and he’s pitching for Texas. He did a nice job.”
It was exactly what he always does for Texas. Thornhill entered the game 8-3, 1.63 on the season. After picking up his third victory of the NCAA tournament, he lowered his postseason ERA to 1.53. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 15 of his 16 starts this year.
And the rest of the Texas pitching staff has followed his lead. The Longhorns haven’t given up a run in 19 consecutive innings, dating back to the eighth inning of Monday’s game against Louisville. They have allowed just four runs total in four games in Omaha, and three of them came in one inning against UC Irvine. Thornhill took the loss in that game—but he still allowed just two runs in 7 1/3 innings. Against Vanderbilt, he never opened the door an inch.
“Well, this is who he is,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said of Thornhill. “I mean, this is why he came back (for his senior year), and this is who he is. 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. He was a quarterback in high school, he’s used to leadership, and he’s committed. He’s committed to the university, he’s committed to the baseball program, he’s committed to Austin, Texas—he’s all-in, man, and he’s a first-class citizen in every sense of the word.”
Texas is a run-prevention machine, with elite pitching and elite defense, so the Commodores could hardly afford to give them runs in the first two innings, but that’s exactly what they did. Ferguson hit Brooks Marlow with his first pitch of the game, then walked Ben Johnson and hit Mark Payton to load the bases with no outs.
“He just couldn’t handle the moment at the time, and that’s too bad because that kid deserves better,” Corbin said. “He works very hard, and he’s got great stuff, and you didn’t see Tyler Ferguson today, unfortunately.”
Still, Ferguson nearly escaped the inning unscathed, striking out Tres Barrera and getting C.J Hinojosa to hit what looked like a double-play ball toward second baseman Dansby Swanson. But second-base umpire Mark Uyl couldn’t get out of the way of the ball, which ricocheted off him for a dead-ball single, driving in a run.
“It could have (been a double play), but it may have been a tough double-play, too,” Corbin said. “That’s just anyone’s guess. (Uyl)’s just got to work on his agility a little bit so he can move.”
Ferguson followed by walking in a run, and the Commodores yanked him for sidewinder Brian Miller, who inherited a 2-0 count with the bases loaded and ended the threat with a strikeout.
Miller did what he could to give Vanderbilt a chance, taking the game all the way to the finish line. He allowed just two hits and no runs after the second inning, but Texas broke the game open with two more runs in the second on back-to-back triples by Zane Gurwitz and Brooks Marlow. Left fielder Bryan Reynolds slipped on the first one, perhaps leading to an extra base, and right fielder Rhett Wiseman made a diving gamble for the second one, turning a single into a triple. Marlow scored on an error.
“They made some contributions to it, and they had some really tough plays,” Garrido said. “Those two plays in the outfield, the balls were both sinking. They got on top of them, and they weren’t as easy or routine as some people might think because of that.”
Maybe the three days off affected Vanderbilt’s rhythm. Or maybe, as they say, momentum is as good as the starting pitcher, and Vanderbilt couldn’t get off to a good start, while Texas had a proven big-game monster on the mound.
Now, Texas has serious momentum—but the Longhorns will have to contend with Vandy ace Carson Fulmer tomorrow. The moment won’t be too big for him, or for Texas’ likely starter, Parker French.
“This game at the college level, in my mind the bigger the game, the more momentum determines the results,” Garrido said.
“(Starting pitching is) really important, but momentum plays a big key. We’ve had pitchers come in here with 15 wins and no losses, and boy, we’ve got it nailed down now—and the guy throws the ball all over the place because it’s the championship game. And that’s what makes Nate’s performance today so remarkable, and (Chad) Hollingsworth (yesterday) is it’s pitch or go home.”