OMAHA—As Texas regrouped after losing its College World Series opener to UC Irvine on Saturday, Longhorns coach Augie Garrido fully expected his team would bounce back. As he put it in Saturday’s postgame press conference, “we’ve got the right attitude, we’ve got the right group of guys.”
He also had the right guy on the mound. Junior righthander Parker French stymied Louisville for 7 1/3 innings Monday afternoon, and the Longhorns kept their season going with a 4-1 win, eliminating the Cardinals.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: Louisville made three errors over the fourth and fifth innings, putting itself in a 3-0 hole. With the way Parker French was throwing for Texas and with a stiff wind blowing in—as usual at TD Ameritrade Park—that hole was too deep.
The Hero: Parker French matched his longest outing of the season at 7 1/3 innings and kept Louisville’s potent offense off the board until the eighth inning. The junior had his sinker working from the outset and attacked the strike zone all day, generating 10 groundouts. French has allowed just three runs in 20 innings in the NCAA tournament.
You Might Have Missed: Louisville sophomore righty Anthony Kidston suffered his first collegiate loss after starting his career 14-0. Still, he did do his part, working eight innings, a season-high of his own, and allowing just two earned runs on six hits while striking out five. “He was good. Those guys that know Anthony know what a great job he does when he’s in jams and the ability to strike a guy out and get out of jams,” Louisville coach Dan McDonnell said. “Give (Texas) credit, because they got guys on and they moved them over and they got them in scoring position. But all in all I thought he pitched really well.”
Louisville’s day looked like it was getting off to a promising start. Anthony Kidston threw a clean top of the first and then Kyle Gibson led off the bottom half with a solid single up the middle. Unfortunately, that was about the high-water mark for the Cardinals. No. 2 hitter Cole Sturgeon got ahead of French 3-1 but then lined into a double play to shortstop C.J Hinojosa, a sign of what was in store for UofL all afternoon.
French pounded the strike zone relentlessly with his heavy sinking fastball, bumping 92-93 mph in the early innings before working more at 88-90 as the game wore on. The Cardinals were having a tough enough time dealing with the sinker, but he also began mixing in more 78-81 mph sliders the second and third time through the order to keep them off balance.
“They started swinging at a lot of early fastballs” French said, “and me and (catcher) Tres (Barrera) talked about it—might want to start mixing it up with a slider a little bit more to give them something to think about, make them uncomfortable. Because their whole game was making the pitcher and defense uncomfortable. That’s how they score runs. You have to attack them first before they attack you. That was our plan, stay ahead of them all day.”
French certainly did stay ahead. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 28 hitters he faced, and Louisville never got a runner to third base until the eighth inning. His 7 1/3 innings matched his longest start of the season, while he allowed only one run (scored after he was pulled) on four hits, all of them singles.
“He did a great job of pounding the strike zone for the most part,” Cardinals center field Cole Sturgeon said. “We probably chased some pitches we shouldn’t have in some big situations with runners on. It was a pretty tight zone today and we probably didn’t do a great job of making them work for everything.”
Relying as he does on his sinker, French generates plenty of ground balls. He induced 10 of them Monday while striking out just three. That puts plenty of onus on his defense, but the Longhorns played played errorless ball behind him, highlighted by multiple impressive athletic plays from Hinojosa at short.
And while Texas was playing crisp, the Cards were falling apart.
Texas took a 1-0 lead in the third after No. 9 hitter Zane Gurwitz led off with a double and eventually came around on a Ben Johnson sac fly. The ‘Horns earned that run on their own, but they got some help on their next two. The Cardinals made three errors over the fourth and fifth innings, including two on back-to-back plays in the fifth by second baseman Zach Lucas. The latter, a throwing error as he tried to finish a potential inning-ending double play, handed Texas an unearned run as the ‘Horns built a 3-0 lead. Louisville finished the afternoon with four errors all together—equal to its number of base hits.
Coach Dan McDonnell’s team has been to back-to-back College World Series, an accomplishment that can’t be diminished. The Cards were the only team from last year’s CWS field to get back to Omaha this year. But there’s no getting around that Louisville has acquitted itself poorly on college baseball’s biggest stage.
McDonnell admitted after UofL’s 5-3 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday that the Cards had struggled to play clean, and Monday was no better. In four CWS games over the last two years, the Cardinals have never had a lead, and they became the first team to go 0-2 in consecutive College World Series since Louisiana State in 2003-04.
“I felt better about this group—no disrespect to last year’s team—but just felt comfortable,” McDonnell said in the postgame press conference, to which he made a point to bring the team’s five seniors with him to the dais, “and I don’t know if any one of the eight teams is coming here not thinking they’re going to win a national championship.
“So I’m sure for seven of the eight, it really hurts, because you know how hard it is to get here, the road to get here, and when you accomplish that road to get here, you feel like we’re invincible. Nothing can stop us. And we have great respect for our opponents, but you really believe you’re going to win a national championship, which makes it hurt. That’s why kids cry and people get emotional, because they wanted more.”
So while McDonnell and company are still trying to find a comfort zone in Omaha, Texas moves on, led by a coach in Garrido who knows this event inside and out. Monday was his 39th career CWS win and his 19th when facing elimination.
After the win, Garrido spoke of another reason he knew his team would be better in its second game—the schedule. The Longhorns drew the first game of the tournament Saturday afternoon, which Garrido knew could be a trap.
“It’s always a game of nerves (when you have to play the first game),” Garrido said. “The celebration has gone on now from the time they got their invitation, punched their ticket to Omaha. Once you get there the celebration continues. It’s a celebration about what you accomplished, and it’s easy to buy into that and it’s hard to refocus and get competitive. And I’ve always just disliked playing that game.
“I didn’t tell them until now. But I didn’t tell them I liked it either. Hard to flip that switch. I think we played much better today.”
At Texas’ practice on Sunday, Garrido said the focus wasn’t so much on baseball skills as it was just enjoying some time together on the field. Having watched his team all year, Garrido knew there wasn’t anything wrong just because it lost a game. He was right.
“We weren’t trying to fix anything because it wasn’t broken. Everything was in the right place. And it was a fun practice and they had a good time. They knew they could trust each other and what we said was, ‘play our game,’ and they did.”