Texas Eliminated from CWS, Goes into Rebuilding Offseason

Image credit: Texas DH Ivan Melendez (Photo by Eddie Kelly)

OMAHA — With a 10-2 loss to rival Texas A&M Sunday afternoon, Texas got off the roller coaster that has been its 2022 season once and for all. 

Even with the ups and downs of the season, it was a jarring ending for a team that came into the season with national title-level expectations. 

“Well, honestly, I’m a little numb right now,” said Texas coach David Pierce after the loss. “A lot of emotions. A lot of thoughts. It’s not even about today’s game; it’s much more about ending this season with an incredible group of young men that gave their heart and souls to our entire program, to each other, to coaches, to support staff.”

The big issue Sunday for the Longhorns was keeping the Aggies off the scoreboard with any consistency, beginning with starting pitcher Lucas Gordon being lifted during the second inning, having allowed four runs to score. 

Texas A&M has a particularly tenacious approach at the plate built around putting together long at-bats, and that worked to perfection. In the second inning against Gordon alone, the Aggies fouled off 14 pitches, which helped push the lefthander’s pitch count all the way to 53 before he exited with two outs in that inning. 

From there, the Aggies went on to score runs in six different half-innings, which kept Texas in a sleeper hold the rest of the afternoon while the trio of Micah Dallas, Jacob Palisch and Brad Rudis held the UT lineup to two runs, one each in the first and second inning before holding the Longhorns scoreless over the final seven innings. 

“I thought we had momentum early in the game. We grabbed one in the first, one in the second,” Pierce said. “Overcoming big innings has been the story of the last three months. And that popped us today.”

It’s perhaps fitting that finding the right combination on the mound was the Longhorns’ final struggle during the 2022 season, because an early-season injury to righthander Tanner Witt was the first piece of adversity that this Texas team had to deal with. 

At the time he was announced as being scratched from his start on March 6, the Longhorns were 11-0, ranked No. 1 in the country and were coming off emphatic wins against Tennessee and Louisiana State. 

Beginning with a 5-1 loss to UCLA in the game in which Witt was scratched (not long after which we learned that he would be out for the season), Texas went 8-8 over its next 16 games, knocking it from its perch at No. 1, and at one point later in the season, it fell out of the rankings altogether. 

Things were never again as easy as Texas made it look as it began the season 11-0, but it slowly started to figure things out as the season wore on. 

Freshman lefthander Lucas Gordon became a worthy Saturday starter to follow Pete Hansen in the rotation. Tristan Stevens made the most of being moved out of the rotation by becoming a key piece of the bullpen. Nine different pitchers appeared 15 or more times in an attempt to find the right combination on the mound. 

Offensively, Texas ended up being one of the most complete lineups in the country. Ivan Melendez was the best hitter in college baseball. Utilityman Murphy Stehly went from a little-used role player to a feared middle-of-the-order slugger. Grad transfer Skyler Messinger was an impact hitter right away, and with 128 homers, the lineup shattered the previous Texas record for homers in a season. 

It all added up to a team that wasn’t dominant in the way we anticipated, but it was a team that put the Longhorns right back into the national title mix for the third time in four full seasons. 

“I’ll tell you guys this, this team has fought so hard to get here, because, honestly, we’ve been fighting to get our roles set and it’s been a work in progress for literally three months,” Pierce said.  “And so their accomplishments of getting here, hats off to just not giving in.”

Now, Texas will go into an offseason of rebuilding. The lineup will look almost completely different. Melendez, catcher Silas Ardoin and shortstop Trey Faltine are all virtual locks to begin professional careers. Center fielder Douglas Hodo III could join them. Stehly, Messinger and DH Austin Todd are out of eligibility. 

Among those who were in the lineup Sunday against Texas A&M, that leaves just left fielder Eric Kennedy, whose game-breaking speed might also give him a chance to move on to pro baseball, and right fielder Dylan Campbell, the one non-draft eligible player. Second baseman Mitchell Daly didn’t start Sunday, but he was a starter for most of the regular season and would presumably be a big part of the lineup next season. 

With Gordon and Witt back in the fold (once Witt has been cleared after Tommy John surgery), plus relievers like Luke Harrison, Lebarron Johnson, Jr. and Andre Duplantier II set to return, things are in better shape on the mound, but you can’t discount how big Hansen’s loss is in the rotation.

Texas is always going to be talented, and history suggests that it’s never too far away from its next College World Series appearance. There’s certainly confidence within the program about that. 

“We’ll be alright. We’ll be right back to there. I know Coach Pierce will do a great job next year and get us back,” Todd said. 

The 2023 season won’t bring with it the preseason expectations that the 2022 season did, but given that turnover, if the Longhorns are going to end next season here in Omaha, it may take a similarly gritty effort to figure things out on the fly. 

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