They’re like the uncle who refuses to go home.
The Texas Longhorns, making their record 35th appearance in the College World Series, just keep winning and staying, winning and staying.
By the end of Thursday’s TCU-Ole Miss game, only four teams will be left in this NCAA tournament, and coach Augie Garrido’s Longhorns, 1-0 victors Wednesday, will be one of them.
Go figure. After dropping their World Series-opening game to UC Irvine, the ’Horns, plagued by suspect hitting, were roundly presumed to have a short shelf life.
Alas, as it has turned out, everybody here has been plagued by suspect hitting. Their dogs ate their batting homework. Or something.
As Texas and the UC Irvine Anteaters settled in for Wednesday night’s elimination game, these are a few numbers that greeted the paying customers:
.235, .224, .220, .209, .206, .190 and .105.
Those are the collective batting averages of seven of the eight College World Series teams. The notable outlier is Vanderbilt, hitting a relatively robust .281.
The other number of note, of course, was zero. That was the number of home runs hit at TD Ameritrade Park through the tourney’s first eight games.
But no more. At 8:51 p.m., Omaha time, with a southerly wind again blowing at 24 mph, Texas shortstop C.J. Hinojosa powered the Series’ first home run with a soaring drive over the left-field wall.
We blinked in disbelief. The crowd gasped — and then erupted. The UT dugout partied like it was 1999. Or, OK, like 2005, when Garrido and the Longhorns won their last NCAA championship.
Describe the dugout reaction, someone asked Garrido after the game.
“Four players fainted,” Augie responded.
Hinojosa, whose only previous homer this season came two months ago against Oklahoma, said he got lucky.
“I think the wind may have changed,” he said, “so that was kind of lucky on our side.”
Hinojosa’s home run came in the top of the seventh, and the way this College World Series has gone, Texas seemed to have an insurmountable 1-0 lead.
To hear the crusty Garrido tell it, pitching and defense got the Longhorns here. And pitching and defense won’t let them go home.
In three games here, Texas pitchers have allowed only four runs, three of them scored by the Anteaters in the opening loss. On Wednesday night, it was sophomore right-hander Chad Hollingsworth from Waco Robinson who put up the zeroes.
It was 8 1/3 zeroes, actually, before closer Travis Duke came in to record the final two outs.
Hollingsworth did what all the UT pitchers are being asked to do.
“Just keep it simple,” Garrido said. “Hit the mitt.”
“Skip [Johnson, pitching coach] knows how to pitch probably better than anybody in the country,” Hollingsworth said. “He’s been preparing us all year for this.
“I mean, it’s not that hard when you have probably the best defense in the country. You really just throw the ball in the mitt. I’m not up there striking people out every time. I just throw to the mitt.”
The best example of Hollingsworth’s praise for his fielders came in UC Irvine’s third inning. With a runner on, Texas center fielder Mark Payton raced to the fringes of the warning track in right-center and plucked Taylor Sparks’ drive in full dive.
The ensuing battle of pitchers meant the stage was set for Hinojosa’s semi-historic homer.
Garrido was asked if he, too, was one of the ones who fainted in the UT dugout.
“No, I had a mild heart attack,” Augie answered.
He’ll have to stick around for two more days, as it turns out.
Texas will face Vandy, undefeated in the Series, Friday afternoon. The Longhorns will have to beat the Commodores twice to win their half of the bracket.
Don’t count them out. Of all teams, Texas knows its way around Omaha.
And it’s not ready to go home.