Longhorns extend Omaha stay, avoid elimination against Tennessee

Vicente Montalvo, Sports Reporter

Texas set an unwanted College World Series record on Sunday night with 21 strikeouts against Mississippi State, but the Longhorn offense arrived in dramatic fashion in Omaha two days later.

After No.3 Tennessee scored two runs early in the second inning, Texas felt immense pressure to produce some sort of firepower in the bottom of the frame. The Longhorns successfully got runners on first and second base, but stalled and picked up two quick outs. But instead of wasting another golden opportunity to generate runs, redshirt sophomore Eric Kennedy provided a much-needed spark from the No.8-hole. Kennedy connected with a full count pitch and sent a home run over right field, giving the Longhorns a 3-2 lead. 

Behind a resurgent offense and an impressive relief pitching performance from freshman Tanner Witt, Texas defeated Tennessee 8-4 in an elimination game to extend their stay in Omaha. Texas head coach David Pierce earned the first CWS win of his coaching career and credited the competitive nature of his team for getting the job done. 

“I just thought we did a great job of competing all day, from top to bottom,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “We had so many stars, so many guys who stepped up today. That’s what we needed.”

Kennedy’s clutch home run against Tennessee came exactly 10 days after he hit a walk-off double against South Florida in the Austin Super Regional on June 12. After dealing with a hitting slump for a portion of the season, Kennedy has turned it on when the Longhorns needed him most. Pierce allowed him to stay in the lineup even when he was struggling throughout the year and that decision has proved to be the right one. 

“When you start trying to change things or trying to replace guys in the lineup, it never works,” Pierce said. “Eric (Kennedy) has earned the right to be a starter. He earned the right to fail and struggle. Now his confidence is back.”

Witt didn’t get the opportunity to start on the mound, but came on in relief during the fourth inning and finished the game with a career-high 5.2 innings pitched. Although starting pitcher Tristan Stevens didn’t perform for as long as expected, Pierce was happy to see a young talent have his day in Omaha. 

“His performance was just outstanding on the biggest stage when the team needed him more so than ever,” Pierce said. “When you get postseason baseball, guys have to step up and he did exactly that.”

It would be easy for a first-year collegiate athlete to get caught up in the pressure of the CWS but Witt stayed calm and collected after dreaming of competing at this level his entire life. 

“This is the moment I’ve always lived for,” Witt said. “I love that big stage (and) big atmosphere. I feel like I only get better in those situations.”

The Longhorns don’t have much time for celebration, as they will play in another elimination game this Thursday night, facing the loser of Mississippi State and Virginia’s Tuesday night game. Despite the win or go home stakes, Witt said he and his teammates will keep having fun with each other and staying loose on the field.

“(There’s) a lot of belief in our teammates (and) a lot of belief in each other,” Witt said. “We’re our best when we have fun. We’re a loose young team and we like to have fun, so we’ll keep doing that.”