Gil LeBreton

June 14, 2014

Optimism could be clouded by Longhorns’ poor hitting

Augie Garrido is trying to put a positive spin on the loss, but Texas hitters didn’t look good against UC Irvine on Saturday.

Sensing, perhaps, that his postgame media audience was rife with pessimists, Texas baseball coach Augie Garrido launched into a College World Series history lesson Saturday afternoon.

“Remember in ’79, when Fullerton lost the first game in the double elimination and I said they were going to win?” Garrido asked us infidels. “Somebody said, ‘Hey, it’s only been done five times.’ Well, now it’s been done six.

“So we’ve got a chance. We’ve got the right attitude. We’ve got the right group of guys.”

But do they have the hitting?

Squandering chances against UC Irvine starter Andrew Morales in the early innings and then silenced in order by reliever Evan Brock at the end, the Longhorns fell 3-1 to the Anteaters in Saturday’s opening game.

If Texas is going to win its seventh NCAA baseball title — and third under 75-year-old Garrido — it’s going to have to do it from the losers’ bracket.

An occasional timely hit might help. The Longhorns bunched five of their seven hits in the first three innings Saturday but came away with only one run off UCI’s Morales.

The middle of the UT order — Mark Payton, Tres Barrera and C.J. Hinojosa — was a combined 1 for 12 at the plate. Texas overall was 2 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

In blunt terms, with the wind at TD Ameritrade Park blowing at 35 mph with gusts up to 43, there was evidence to suggest that the Longhorns can’t hit the ball against a stiff wind.

Garrido gave huge credit to Morales, a recent second-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals. But the UT coach didn’t help his own team’s cause when, after Morales shakily threw eight balls in a row and put two men on in the first inning — “He was gooned,” UCI coach Mike Gillespie said — Garrido had Payton, his best hitter, lay down a sacrifice bunt.

“I thought about letting him hit,” Garrido said, “but I also thought it was good for the team to see him advance runners, and I have confidence in the players behind him to get the job done.

“Maybe in hindsight it was a bad decision. But if he’d have hit into a double play, it would have been a worse decision.”

Instead, gifted with an out, Morales proceeded to strike out Barrera and get Hinojosa on a grounder to end the inning. Morales also was able to limit the damage in the second inning and hold the ’Horns to one run. And in the third, he worked his way out of a two-on, two-out jam.

Texas made its lone run stand up until the eighth inning, when Garrido rolled the dice and lost again. He pulled starter Nathan Thornhill after a single by Adam Alcantara and a game-tying triple by UCI’s Taylor Sparks.

While Garrido and the Longhorns huddled on the mound, the Anteaters huddled near home plate. In came UT’s John Curtiss to pitch, and the crowd of 23,796 waited for what seemed like an inevitable squeeze bunt.

Except that, with the Texas infield drawn in, shortstop Chris Rabago ripped a single up the middle, driving in the go-ahead run.

Rabago had the third-most sacrifice hits (22) in college baseball this season.

“There’s a rumor that we squeeze. It’s a myth. We’re trying to live that down. We’re a big-inning club,” Gillespie said, tongue firmly in cheek.

“Part of the problem with the squeeze is that you don’t always get a pitch to work with. Every once in a while, some shrewd dirty rat like Augie might pitch out.”

Gillespie went with Brock, a starter all season, to record the final seven outs. He struck out the side in the ninth.

For the Longhorns, the losers’ bracket awaits. But as the grim questioning continued, Garrido tried to put a positive postgame spin on Texas’ road ahead.

“This is a strong brotherhood — I think you’ll see it,” he said. “We have an opportunity now.”

But do the Longhorns have the hitting?

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