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Texas Returns To College World Series

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Kody Clemens (Getty Images)

AUSTIN, Texas—The reminders of Texas’ history are never far from sight at Disch-Falk Field. Six national championship banners hang just beyond the left-field fence and outside the stadium. The retired numbers of six Texas greats adorn the grandstand.

Omaha is never far from the Longhorns’ minds. It is what they come to Austin to play for. No program has been to the College World Series more often than Texas. Only Southern California has won more national titles.

Now, after a three-year absence, the Longhorns are headed back to Omaha. Texas on Monday defeated Tennessee Tech, 5-2, in a decisive Game 3 of the Austin Super Regional. The Longhorns (42-21) won back-to-back elimination games to stave off the upstart Golden Eagles (53-12) and return to college baseball’s promised land.

“I think the one thing about this team is when you look at this team the major factor is the team itself,” coach David Pierce said. “This team is really bonded well, and they understand how to pick up each other. Just an incredible day.”

Texas followed a familiar blueprint against Tennessee Tech. All-American second baseman Kody Clemens paced the offense, belting his third home run of the weekend, and the Longhorns got a strong effort from their pitching staff, holding the nation’s most powerful offense to two runs on five hits.

It wasn’t quite Augie Ball, but it wasn’t far removed from the style of baseball legendary coach Augie Garrido brought to the 40 Acres and used to win two national titles.

Garrido has been a presence around the team all season after he passed away in March at the age of 79. Most of the players on the roster were coached or recruited by Garrido, who retired after the 2016 season. Texas wears a patch on their hats in memory of him, his initials and No. 16 are painted onto the Longhorn logo in center field and his No. 16 jersey hangs in the Texas dugout.

Garrido has never been far from the Longhorns' thoughts and he was on their minds again Monday. During a tense moment in Monday’s game, Pierce rubbed the jersey for good luck. After the game, the crowd of 7,370 fans at Disch-Falk Field chanted “Augie, Augie.”

Righthander Parker Joe Robinson is the son of former big leaguer Jeff Robinson, who played for Garrido at Cal State Fullerton. Parker Joe Robinson threw 2.2 scoreless innings of relief Monday and said the team has been playing for Garrido.

“It seems like almost right after he passed away our team flipped a switch,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe Augie was with us and we all just played together for one thing bigger than baseball.”

But this team has its own stamp. Since Pierce was hired away from Tulane in 2016 after a protracted search, he has worked to speed up the process of returning Texas to prominence.

“I knew I had very little patience and I knew we were going to fast forward this,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know how long it would take but I felt confident with the resources, with the administration, with the support that we get that we were going to get everything possible.”

After a solid first season that ended with a tough loss at Long Beach State in the regional final, the Longhorns this year took the next step. They won the Big 12 Conference title and hosted a regional for the first time since 2011.

It hasn’t always been easy. Texas was 9-9 going into Big 12 play after a typically ambitious nonconference schedule. It took two steps forward with series wins against Kansas and Oklahoma State only to take one back with a series loss at Kansas State. It was after that weekend in Manhattan, Kan., at the end of March that Pierce said the Longhorns came together.

“We came together and basically said, ‘We’re better than this,’” Pierce said. “Everyone continued to stay with the grind. Nobody ever got to the point where they thought we weren’t good. Just the way we went about our business tells you how professional it’s been.”

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The Beavers defeated the Bulldogs, 5-2, to move into the CWS Finals against Arkansas for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.

Since then, Texas has lost just one series and put together a sensational stretch run to chase down Oklahoma State for the conference championship. That momentum has carried into the NCAA Tournament and now has them headed to the College World Series.

When first baseman Jake McKenzie on Monday caught the ball from shortstop David Hamilton for the final out of the game, the Longhorns were able to take in the moment. They celebrated on the field, fired Smokey the Cannon and sang “Eyes of Texas.”

It was a moment the Longhorns have been working to their whole careers. But they know their mission isn’t done yet.

Clemens has heard plenty about the College World Series from his father and older brothers. He is looking forward to adding to his family legacy in Omaha, along with the rest of the Longhorns.

“This is definitely what my class and the class above me have been working for,” Clemens said. “Omaha is the goal. You put in all the work in the offseason, you grind with your teammates, everything in the weight room and on the field, you do as a team. You work to get to Omaha.”

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