In it to win it: Texas not just happy to be in CWS this time

Jun 18, 2021, 2:05 AM | Updated: 2:58 pm

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Texas is making its record 37th appearance in the College World Series and, unlike the last time it was here in 2018, coach David Pierce believes this team has the makings to be national champion.

The Longhorns (47-15) went 5-0 through their regional and super regional for the first time since 2004 and are the highest remaining national seed at No. 2.

“Going in there this year, there’s never been any thought of, ‘Hey, we made it to Omaha,’ ” Pierce said. “The only thought we’ve had is, ‘It’s the next step. We’re going to Omaha to win this thing.’ “

“Now, whether we’re good enough and the pieces fall into place, you’ve to have a little luck, you’ve got to stay healthy, it’s just got to work out. You’ve got to calm your nerves.”

The CWS returns, with fan capacity at 100%, after the 2020 season was shut down in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Play begins Saturday with No. 9 Stanford (38-15) taking on unseeded North Carolina State (35-18) in the afternoon and reigning national champion and No. 4 Vanderbilt (45-15) facing No. 5 Arizona (45-16) at night. Games Sunday match No. 3 Tennessee (50-16) against unseeded Virginia (35-25) and the Longhorns against No. 7 Mississippi State (45-16).

Texas has been at the CWS four times since it won the last of its six national titles in 2005.

The 2018 team was led by Kody Clemens’ 24 home runs and a strong defense but the pitching was not elite. That club went two games and out.

Only four players from the ’18 team remain on the roster for a team whose batting order lists four freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and a senior.

“I think that team really overachieved in ’18,” Pierce said. “We pieced the pitching together and it did well but it wasn’t what our pitching is now. And I think when you go to Omaha and you feel confident because your starting pitching gives you an opportunity, it’s a different feeling.”

Texas has one of the nation’s top starting rotations in sophomore Ty Madden, junior Tristan Stevens and redshirt freshman Pete Hansen. All three have sub-3.00 ERAs, and the staff leads the nation at 2.89.

There’s no shortage of strong starting pitching in the field. Madden is projected to be a top-10 pick in the Major League Baseball draft, as are Vanderbilt’s Jack Leiter and 2019 CWS Most Outstanding Player Kumar Rocker.

Stanford’s Brendan Beck is the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, and Cardinal No. 2 pitcher Alex Williams threw a two-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts against Texas Tech in super regionals.

The Chad Dallas-led Tennessee staff has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.7-to-1, which is best among the eight teams in Omaha and No. 2 nationally. Virginia’s Andrew Abbott has struck out 152, four behind national leader Leiter and three behind Rocker.

Mississippi State leads the nation with 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings, with Will Bednar and Christian McLeod having combined for 226 in 154 2/3 innings.

Arizona has the top all-around offense. The Wildcats average 8.6 runs per game, bat .329, lead the nation in doubles and triples, and have homered 14 times in their last eight games.

“We’re not going to be pigeonholed into any one way or type of game,” Wildcats coach Jay Johnson said. “Somebody’s got to pitch and play well to hold us down.”

DRAFT CHANGE A POSITIVE

Vanderbilt’s Tim Corbin was among the coaches who said they were glad MLB moved its draft to July. The draft traditionally has coincided with the NCAA Tournament, and players would be distracted with thoughts about which team would select them and in what round, all while they were trying to help their teams advance.

“That’s not what we should be doing to an 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kid,” Corbin said.

AVENT THINKING OF DAD

NC State coach Elliott Avent said his father has been on his mind in recent days. Jack Avent died in January at age 93, and Elliott said he loved to watch the Wolfpack and his beloved New York Yankees on television.

“When we were 1-8 in conference, I thought maybe Daddy didn’t want to stick around and watch us play because it was too hard,” Avent said. “Now, seeing where we are now, he retired early so he could help me in a different place to get this team to do special things. I think every day a lot of this is a tribute to him.”

VITELLO COACH OF YEAR

Tennessee’s Tony Vitello has been named the Mike Martin National Coach of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Vitello led the Volunteers to the CWS for the first time since 2005 while reaching the 50-win mark for the first time since 1995.

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In it to win it: Texas not just happy to be in CWS this time