Corey Knebel watched from the bullpen as Texas’ once comfortable lead looked less menacing. The Cardinal had two men on with no outs in the eighth inning, and the Longhorns were at risk of blowing their four-run advantage. With the game hanging in the balance, what happened next surprised the strong-armed freshman.
“I didn’t think I was going to come in,” Knebel said. “It just kind of happened.”
Knebel pitched the final two innings for Texas and recorded his second save of the weekend as Texas beat Stanford 4-2 to take the series two games to one.
“I heard Stanford was really good, and they’re ranked No. 9, so it felt really important for [my coaches] to bring me out there and shut them down,” Knebel said.
Knebel was warming up with fellow reliever Hoby Milner as Stayton Thomas surrendered bases to the first two Cardinal players of the eighth inning. Knebel wanted to close, but he expected coaches to send in the left-handed Milner to get Texas out of the jam.
“We had a righty in the game at the time, so I thought for sure Hoby was going to go in,” Knebel said.
Perhaps he wasn’t entirely ready, because he quickly allowed consecutive singles with no outs, the second of which was an RBI that put the winning run at-bat. Knebel settled and came up with what Texas head coach Augie Garrido called “the play of the game,” a 3-6-1 double play in which he beat the batter to first and caught a throw from second base.
“The hardest part about that play was for the pitcher to be there on time, and he was,” Garrido said. “That was a huge turnaround in that inning, and it was mainly executed because of the teamwork and the timing and the rhythm.”
Knebel followed the double play by striking out the final batter of the inning with a high fastball, which Stanford’s Brian Guymon swung at but didn’t come close to hitting. Knebel’s fastball hit 96 mph Friday and got up to 94 on Sunday.
“When they get anxious up there and they have two strikes on them, they’re going to swing at anything,” Knebel said. “You give them a high fastball, and it looks good, they’re going to swing at it.”
Knebel struck out two more in the ninth, complementing his fastball with a curveball he recently picked up with the help of pitching coach Skip Johnson. His curveball allowed him to show hitters something off-speed, but Knebel mainly kept things in the strike zone with his fastball.
“It’s awesome to see a freshman come out there fearless,” said pitcher Sam Stafford, who started Sunday and picked up the win. “Friday, he came in a similar situation and did the exact same thing.
“That gives him confidence and gives the coaches confidence to send him out there in any situation, because they know he’s going to give us an opportunity to win the ball game.”
The freshman lowered his ERA to 3.38 in four appearances. He is fourth on the team with eight strikeouts.