Longhorns cut down Cardinal
By John Manuel
OMAHA--Texas and Stanford won't have to play anymore.
The Longhorns solved Stanford ace Jeremy Guthrie and got standout relief pitching from righthanders Jesen Merle and Huston Street to beat the Cardinal 6-5, eliminating it and moving into the championship game for the first time since 1989.
It's the first time in three years the Cardinal won't play for the national championship, and it can blame Texas' pitching. Both of Stanford's losses here came in one-run decisions to the Longhorns, with Street closing out both games.
"It's a big, deep pitching staff, and they have come up with timely hits," Stanford coach Mark Marquess said. "Texas was a better team. They won those close games and deserved to win. They're very solid."
Junior outfielder Dustin Majewski, a transfer from Blinn (Texas) Junior College, blasted his 10th home run of the season with one out in the seventh inning off Guthrie, breaking a 5-5 tie and giving the Longhorns the margin of victory. In a year in which the 'Horns have moved to a more power-oriented offense and away from its small-ball, artificial-turf induced approach, it's fitting they move into the championship game on a homer that tied the school record for home runs in a season. Majewski's blast was the team's 67th of the season.
"It's probably the highlight of my career so far, but we really haven't done anything yet," Majewski said. "We're just where we want to be."
Guthrie wasn't at his best, but he competed and kept the Cardinal in the game, giving up six runs (four earned) in 6 1/3 innings.
"I got beat in that instance, and I got beat in the fifth," he said, wiping away a tear. "It's unfortunate I couldn't do better tonight."
A record-setting home run also played a part in Texas' biggest inning of the night, a three-run fifth that gave the team its first lead of the night. Sophomore third baseman Omar Quintanilla led off with a triple and scored on Majewski's single to left, bringing the Longhorns back from an early 3-0 deficit. Senior first baseman Jeff Ontiveros, already Texas' career home runs leader, untied the score with a two-run blast to left field, becoming the first Texas player to hit 20 home runs in a season in the process.
"Guthrie's a great pitcher, and for a couple of innings he was really dealing," Ontiveros said. "We were telling each other that we had to hit his mistakes, and we did. Dustin and I did a good job of being patient."
However, Stanford rallied to tie the game in the bottom half, as Jason Cooper's double scored Ryan Garko from first, and Cooper came in on Chris O'Riordan's single. That chased starter Ray Clark and brought on middle reliever Merle, who entered the game with a 2-3, 2.51 mark.
He proceeded to dominate the Cardinal with an assortment of offspeed stuff, often using a changeup in the 66-68 mph range. He struck out the first batter he faced, Carlos Quentin, one of five he had on the night. The only hit he allowed was in the ninth, a perfect bunt single by center fielder Sam Fuld, who set a new Cardinal single-season record for hits during the game.
The one time Stanford threatened Merle was in the seventh, when O'Riordan reached on a two-out error and Merle plunked Quentin, the record-setting 19th time Quentin took a dose. Scott Dragicevich got ahead in the count 2-0 and 3-1, then struck out on a 3-2 pitch.
"He mixed it up," Dragicevich said. "When I thought I had a feel for him, he'd surprise me. The 3-1 changeup was the pitch to hit--I should've hit it, but I thought it was going to be low, and it stayed up for him. When it was 3-2, I wanted to put it in play and I expanded my zone.
"It's probably an at-bat I'll look back on for a long time. (Merle) got the job done today."
He didn't get to finish what he started, though. Fuld's bunt hit brought on Texas closer Huston Street, who tied the Series record with his third save (his 13th of the season). He retired Garko on a flyout to center, then got Cooper to bounce a 2-1 pitch into a 3-6-3, game- (and, for Stanford, season-) ending double play.
"Merle had a very good changeup and slider, two effective pitches," Fuld said. "Then he'd sneak in a fastball that was effective. He got me out the previous at-bat with a good pitch, but I felt I could get the bunt down and I did."
O'Riordan was on deck when Cooper grounded into the double play and was 2-for-3 with a double play but didn't get a chance for another big hit. "I would've liked another chance, but I had all the confidence in the world Jason would get a hit," he said.
The Cardinal got on the board first, as the first three batters scored. Freshman DH Chris Carter extended his hitting streak to 11 games in emphatic fashion, smoking Ray Clark's full-count pitch to left-center field for his eighth home run. Sophomore center fielder Sam Fuld followed with a triple, his 109th hit of the season, setting a new Stanford single-season record.
Ryan Garko was hit by a pitch, and after Clark struck out Jason Cooper, Chris O'Riordan came through with a single to right that scored Fuld. After another strikeout, Garko came home on Dragicevich's two-out single.
Dragicevich helped Texas get on the board in the second, though, as his two-out error on Ryan Hubele's groundout started a two-run uprising. Brendan Fahey followed with a single, and J.D. Reininger's walk loaded the bases for Kalani Napoleon's two-run single. Guthrie got out of that inning as Dragicevich snared Quintanilla's bases-loaded liner.
"If he doesn't catch it, it puts a hole in him," Garrido quipped.
Garrido was in a mood to quip. If the Longhorns win Saturday, Garrido will become the first coach to win a national championship with two different teams, having done it at Cal State Fullerton in '75, '84 and '95. He also would be the first coach to win in four different decades, as the Southern California championship in 1948 is credited to Sam Berry, not Rod Dedeaux.
Texas will play the winner of Friday afternoon's South Carolina/Clemson game. The Longhorns beat the Gamecocks in the 1975 title game. The Longhorns are 4-4 all-time in championship games, but have a three-game losing streak.
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