CWS Game 12: Texas 4, Arizona State 3

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Arizona State needed just two more outs to force a rematch against Texas tomorrow, but Cameron Rupp changed everything with one swing of the bat, launching a game-tying solo homer to center field with one out in the ninth. Texas won on Connor Rowe’s walk-off shot two batters later.Arkansas started its closer, Stephen Richards,
whose longest outing this year was three innings. Richards kept his
team in the game until the third, when No. 9 hitter Austin Nola singled
to lead off the inning and Richards issued a four-pitch walk to the
next hitter, D.J. LeMahieu. Hogs coach Dave Van Horn said he knew at
that point Richards was finished, and LSU went on to score three runs
in the inning. Arkansas would never get close

Without Rupp’s energizing, game-saving homer, Rowe never would have gotten the chance to be the hero.

Might Have Missed:
Zach Wilson was arguably the most heralded member of Arizona State’s top-ranked recruiting class last fall, but he contributed very little this spring before pinch-hitting for Johnny Ruettiger in the seventh inning. In his second at-bat in the ninth, Wilson gave ASU a temporary lead with an RBI triple to right field, driving in Jason Kipis. It was his first RBI since May 10. “For a freshman to have that kind of at-bat, the kid’s got such good potential, and he finally came through for us, so it was great to see,” Kipnis said. “I honestly thought it was our kind of game after that, but tip your hat to Texas.”

OMAHA—Once the tape recorders were off and the cameras had stopped rolling, even Augie Garrido could express a little incredulity over Friday’s finish. Walking out of the Hall of Fame room following the post-game press conference, the Texas coach shook his head and mumbled, “How does that happen?”

That was yet another lightning-quick momentum shift in the Longhorns’ favor, this time in the ninth inning. Trailing by a run with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Texas got a game-tying solo home run from Cameron Rupp. Two batters later, Connor Rowe cracked a walk-off solo homer to left field, sending Texas to a 4-3 victory against Arizona State and a trip to the CWS Finals against Louisiana State.

“The two home runs were about as dramatic as you can get,” Garrido said in the postgame. “We were trying to lay off pitches at the bottom of the strike zone. We got some balls up, and we ran into them. And it changed the game.”

Three days ago, Texas erased a 6-0 ASU lead in the blink of an eye, erupting for six runs in the fourth inning against All-American Mike Leake. Friday’s turnaround was just as striking, though Texas had to overcome just a one-run deficit.

Leake came back on two days’ rest to pitch six strong innings for Arizona State, allowing just two runs on eight hits and a walk while striking out seven. Texas countered with sophomore righty Cole Green on four days’ rest, and he matched Leake for six innings, allowing two runs on eight hits and three walks, striking out six.

Both starters left with the score knotted up at 2-2, and both coaches entrusted the game to their respective lefthanded relief aces. For Texas, senior Austin Wood was stronger than he had been since his 13-inning tour de force against Boston College in regionals. He worked three strong innings Friday, but ASU finally got to him for a run in the top of the ninth on freshman Zach Wilson’s RBI triple to right field, putting the Devils ahead 3-2.

That lead seemed safe in the hands of ASU freshman lefty Mitchell Lambson, who had struck out four during two perfect innings heading into the ninth. Lambson whiffed Brandon Loy to start the ninth, bringing up Rupp. On a 3-and-1 pitch, Lambson left a fastball up in the zone, and Rupp hammered it over the batter’s eye in center field. Later, he admitted with a sheepish grin that he knew it was gone right off the bat.

So did just about everyone in Rosenblatt Stadium. Asked if they’d ever seen a ball hit that hard, Rowe and Wood responded instantly, “No.” Added Wood, “That ball was crushed.”

Rowe’s homer on the first pitch two batters later cleared the left-field fence by just a couple of rows, but it was enough to set off a frenzied celebration at home plate.

“I faced him three times,” Rowe said of Lambson, “and every time he kept throwing me changeup, changeup, changeup. I don’t think I saw one fastball from him. I was definitely sitting on changeup, and luckily that’s what I got.”

The finish was very tough for Arizona State, of course, but even coach Pat Murphy and his players could recognize the quality of the game.

“That was a pretty tough one,” Murphy said. “Mitch had been pretty good there at the end, and he was good again tonight. But credit goes to Texas; they did a wonderful job of hitting in the clutch there at the end. It’s a great game for college baseball.”

Texas has made a habit of hitting in the clutch. This is UT’s third walk-off win this postseason—the Longhorns won their regional on a walk-off grand slam against Army, then won their CWS opener on a walk-off walk against Southern Mississippi. Now they just need to find a way to win two more games in the best-of-three Finals, which starts with a Chance Ruffin-Louis Coleman showdown Monday night.

“I’m sure in the next two or three (games) we’re going to find a couple more ways to win,” Rupp said. “Every game’s a battle for us, and we’ve competed to the end of it. We’ll take it any way we can get it—we’ll come out and compete every day, just like we have been.

“For us to go out there and show that we have composure when we’re down, that we’re not uptight and panicking, I think it takes a little pressure off us. No matter how much we’re behind or how much we’re ahead, we’re still going to play the same game.”