Melendez keeps Texas alive in CWS, forces elimination game

Vicente Montalvo

Texas’ run in the College World Series looked like it was coming to a sudden end after it conceded a three-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning to Mississippi State. Then Ivan Melendez stepped up to the plate.

As the Omaha skies let down a torrent of rain, the redshirt sophomore showed the crowd of over 24,000 fans why he is affectionately nicknamed the ‘Hispanic Titanic.’ With two Longhorn runners on base, Melendez crushed a ball into left center field. He knew it was a no doubt homer the second he left his bat, immediately flipping it towards the Texas dugout and yelling in joy at his teammates. Thanks in large part to Melendez’s clutch hitting, Texas kept their quest for a National Championship alive with an 8-5 win, beating the Bulldogs for the first time this season after two previous losses.

Earlier in the season, Melendez came up just short of capturing a NCAA Division I record for consecutive home runs in different games and has since had his ups and downs at the plate. Texas head coach David Pierce hasn’t wavered in his commitment to Melendez in the cleanup spot, however, and Pierce credited Melendez for stepping up in a pressure packed situation.

“I give Ivan (Melendez) so much credit for just being ready for that pitch and being ready to swing the bat and wanting to be in that situation,” Pierce said. “He did a great job of just having confidence in the box and wanting to help his team win and did a great job with that.”

This is the second day in a row that Texas had to deal with a rain delay in an elimination contest. Promptly after Melendez’s home run, play was suspended for over two hours due to rain. Pierce applauded his team for staying focused through the delay and finishing the job in the ninth inning.

“We’ve had back-to-back long nights, a 3 hour (and) 40 minute delay last night, two hours tonight,” Pierce said. “I’m sitting there behind the team looking at them just hoping that they can just engage and get their minds back into finishing this game.”

The Longhorns’ offense had an impressive outing compared to their previous game against the Bulldogs. Instead of allowing Mississippi State to eclipse another NCAA record striking out batters, they managed to keep a good eye and work pitch counts.

Texas batters drew 11 walks on the night compared to nine strikeouts, something that helped them secure the victory. Pierce said the Longhorns have kept a positive mindset since their woeful batting performance in the first game of the CWS, and it paid off Friday night.

“I think our bench and our coaches do a really good job of not letting the (starters) drop their head(s),” Pierce said. “I think our team feels that positive vibe and it’s been tremendous. It’s been like that all year.”

The Longhorns now have to beat Mississippi State once again on Saturday night to advance to the Finals. Will Bednar, the Bulldog pitcher who helped strike out a record number of Texas batters in the first game of the CWS, will likely be on the mound as both teams empty the tank to advance. The Longhorns have more momentum after three straight victories in Omaha, and Pierce said his team is peaking at the right time.

“I believe that our team is playing at a very high level, not only with confidence, but with their skill set right now,” Pierce said. “I think the game gets back to even now. And we’re going to go out there and compete like we do and see what happens.”