OMAHA—Of course it was the UC Irvine-Texas game that featured—and was decided by—the first home run of the 2014 College World Series.
Of course C.J Hinojosa, who entered the game with one home run in 231 at-bats this year, broke a 115-inning CWS homerless streak with a seventh-inning blast off the top of the wall behind the left-field bullpen.
Of course Chad Hollingsworth threw 8 1/3 shutout innings in his second start of the season to lead Texas to a 1-0 win Wednesday against UC Irvine, knocking the Anteaters out of the CWS.
|Game At A Glance|
|Turning Point: The Longhorns and Anteaters were locked in a scoreless tie until one swing of C.J Hinojosa’s bat turned the tide. Hinojosa’s solo homer leading off the seventh inning proved decisive.
The Hero: Hinojosa has a good case, but Texas coach Augie Garrido said he thought the story of the game was Chad Hollingsworth, who threw 8 1/3 innings of four-hit, shutout ball in his second start of the season.
You Might Have Missed: Despite the offense-starved climate at the College World Series, 1-0 games in Omaha are rare. This was just the second since 1985, following Matt Boyd’s shutout of Indiana last year for Oregon State. It was also just the second time in the last 27 years that both teams were scoreless through the first six innings. The last time it happened was 2011 (California vs. Virginia).
Texas coach Augie Garrido is 75 years old; he’s seen just about everything there is to see in baseball. And still his eyes and his voice conveyed genuine wonder over baseball’s ability to deliver surprises.
“This is what I mean when I talk about the game,” Garrido said. “You’ve all seen it, but it’s almost hard to believe that you can do the impossible, but it separates things. It’s an amazing game, it’s an amazing game. Whatever can’t be done gets done at the most unexpected time. That’s what’s so cool about it. It’s even cooler when it’s in your favor.”
Hollingsworth and UC Irvine lefthander Evan Manarino battled to a scoreless tie through six innings. Only one batter reached second base through those first six frames, unless you count Ben Johnson’s triple-that-wasn’t in the Texas sixth, when he was called out upon appeal for failing to touch first base.
The crowd was abruptly roused from its stupor in the seventh, when Hinojosa led off by yanking a Manarino fastball way over the fence. The fans roared, the cynical scribes exchanged incredulous tweets, and the Texas dugout experienced a medical emergency.
“Four players fainted,” Garrido deadpanned.
Asked later if he also fainted, Garrido didn’t miss a beat.
“No, I had a mild heart attack,” he said. “I put a long distance call in to get Cinco de Mayo recognized as a national day in honor of him.”
All jokes aside—and Garrido had plenty of good ones ready to go Wednesday night—Hinojosa’s home run wasn’t quite as shocking to the Longhorns as it was to everybody else.
“He’s done that a lot in his life. When he was a 12-year-old, he was doing things like that,” Garrido said. “He wins the games. He plays better on a bigger stage. The bigger the stage he’s playing on, the better he is. The more important the game is, the better he is. It comes from an early age.”
Hollingsworth’s heroics didn’t exactly come out of left field, either. In his first start of the year in the decisive seventh game of the Houston Super Regional against Texas A&M, the sophomore righty threw a two-hit shutout.
“I thought we were kind of saving his arm for a more important time,” Garrido quipped. “We finished fifth in the conference and made our sacrifices there and decided that we wouldn’t really unveil our secret weapon until a later date—the super regional, of course, was kind of risky waiting that long. But it’s paid off.”
Hollingsworth didn’t do anything fancy Wednesday. He pounded the strike zone with his 87-88 fastball and mid-70s breaking ball, allowing four hits and no walks while striking out five. He let the Anteaters put the ball in play, and his defense did not let him down. Center fielder Mark Payton likely saved a run in the third inning, when he made a diving catch in right-center to rob Taylor Sparks of extra bases.
“I mean, it’s not that hard when you have probably the best defense in the country,” Hollingsworth said. “I mean, you really just throw in the mitt. I’m not up there striking people out every time. I’m not one of those guys that’s going to get 10 Ks. I just throw to the mitt. C.J made big plays. Mark made that big play that probably changed the whole game, and the rest of my defense made plays, and that’s all I can ask of them.”
Connor Spencer, who had two of Irvine’s four hits, complimented Hollingsworth’s ability to mix speeds and locations.
“He was definitely working both sides of the plate tonight, and the curveball was setting up his fastball really, really nicely,” Spencer said. “So when he was throwing that curveball and backing it up with the fastball, the fastball was getting in on us. You know, it just kind of threw us off balance, and we really couldn’t get on to that fastball the way we would have liked to.”
Spencer was UC Irvine’s leading hitter this year, and he was also a clubhouse leader for a lovable Irvine team that snuck into the NCAA tournament as one of the last four teams in the field, then shocked No. 1 national seed Oregon State in regionals and Big 12 regular-season champ Oklahoma State in super regionals. The articulate Spencer summed up the run with eloquence.
“It takes a special team to get this far,” he said. “During the season, you really wouldn’t have known that we were that special team, but as soon as our name was called on that announcement show, things kind of changed a little bit, and guys’ hearts started to come out. This team showed a lot of heart, and I haven’t been on a team with this much heart in a really, really long time.”