Longhorns fall short of College World Series title, remain optimistic for future

Amsal Madhani, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the June 28 flipbook.

Texas’ season came to a painful end Saturday night with a ninth inning walk-off double from Mississippi State, but the loss takes nothing away from a remarkable season for the Longhorn baseball program.

The Longhorns finished the year with a 50–17 record, their first season hitting the 50-win mark since 2010, and just one game shy of the College World Series finals. Texas battled through multiple rain delays in Omaha to win three straight elimination games, with tournament highlights including Zach Zubia’s three-RBI double in the top of the ninth inning against Virginia and Ivan Melendez’s three-RBI homer in the top of the ninth against Mississippi State. Even though Texas came up short, they left the CWS with their heads held high.

“I mean, it sucks to lose that way, but it was an unbelievable season,” redshirt senior outfielder Mike Antico said Saturday night. “I’m really proud of this whole team, the coaches and the players. It was a hell of an experience.”

While the Texas offense had a bevy of clutch moments, the Longhorns consistently thrived on the mound this season thanks to a versatile and deep pitching group led by D1 All-American Ty Madden. The redshirt sophomore came up big for the Longhorns during their World Series run, pitching 13 innings and recording 18 strikeouts. He showed tremendous guts Friday night in a win over Mississippi State, throwing six innings on short rest and giving up only two runs.

But it wasn’t just Madden who captured the spotlight this year. Redshirt junior Tristan Stevens earned All-Big 12 First Team honors after recording a career-high 77 strikeouts on the season. He was also exponentially important as a veteran leader on a young Texas squad, according to head coach David Pierce.

Madden and Stevens both showed great poise at the mound all year long and set the standard for what to expect from the younger guys coming in that will have to fill their shoes at the mound. With both likely headed off to start their professional careers, Pierce said they laid the foundation for the pitching group’s culture in the years to come.

“I think more than anything that I’ve been so pleased with is just the leadership from Ty (Madden) and Tristan (Stevens),” Pierce said. “This group, starting last spring, started really creating that attitude that we were looking for.”

Freshman pitchers Tanner Witt and Aaron Nixon were able to learn from Madden and Stevens throughout the season. There were some great flashes shown by both players, as Witt pitched tremendously in a pivotal elimination game against Tennessee in the College World Series. The former highly touted recruit shut out the Volunteers through five and two-thirds innings pitched.

Nixon found a home with the Longhorns this season serving as the team’s closer, taking pressure off the bullpen when it came down to closing a game out in the late innings. Antico said part of the reason Witt and Nixon enjoyed early success in their college career was their competitive spirit as former position players.

“It takes a special cat to be a closer in baseball, and (Nixon’s) got all the makings of it,” Antico said. “My thing for Tanner (Witt) and (Aaron) Nixon both is they were both position players. They were two-way guys. They understand the mentality of a position player, and they bring that same work ethic into pitching, and I think it really helps them a lot.”

Although it wasn’t the outcome Longhorn fans were looking for, there’s still a lot to look forward to with this young squad, namely three freshman pitchers who still have a lot to prove.

“The future’s bright,” Pierce said. “The two big freshmen in Witt and Nixon, and you look at (freshman Lucas) Gordon, he’s right there close (to) being the next weekend guy. Just a lot of positive things.”