Texas’ comeback bid falls short, Longhorns drop Game 1 of Greenville Super Regional

Hunter Dworaczyk, Sports Reporter

Down one run with a runner on third in the top of the eighth inning, redshirt sophomore outfielder Douglas Hodo III roped a ball down the third baseline, and it looked like the game was going to be tied. But as the ball quickly bounced up off the turf, East Carolina’s Alec Makarewicz plucked it from the air just before it got past and threw Hodo out at first, ending the inning.

The Pirates then tallied five runs in the bottom of the eighth in an inning that began with a solo home run that bounced off of Hodo’s glove into the stands. It was that kind of day for the Longhorns. 

“Down the stretch, (East Carolina) did a better job of making plays, extending at bats and really making pitches,” Texas head coach David Pierce said. “The five-spot put us in a different situation going into the ninth.” 

Hitting with runners in scoring position proved to be the difference in Friday afternoon’s Greenville Super Regional opener between No. 9-seeded Texas and No. 8-seeded East Carolina. The Longhorns went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position while the Pirates went 8-for-16, a huge factor in East Carolina’s 13-7 victory in Game 1. 

The Longhorns faced a tall task when they entered the raucous atmosphere of Clark-LeClair Stadium. Perhaps it was the noise from fans hanging over the outfield fence in droves that prevented Hodo and redshirt junior outfielder Eric Kennedy from communicating properly when they nearly collided on that home run in the eighth that bounced off Hodo’s glove. Regardless, the Longhorns’ failure to hit with runners in scoring position, and East Carolina’s contrasting success, is a big reason why Texas only managed to score seven runs despite hitting four home runs.

“(East Carolina) did a good job of fouling off pitches all day,” Pierce said. “They’re a really good team with two strikes.”

Despite scoring two runs in the top of the first, courtesy of redshirt senior infielder Murphy Stehly’s home run, Texas’ offense was put right back behind the eight ball after redshirt sophomore pitcher Pete Hansen’s shaky first inning.

The lefty didn’t have his usual command on the mound, giving up three runs in the first. Hansen was eventually pulled from the game after giving up six runs in four innings.

“He struggled with his command on both sides of the plate,” Pierce said. “He just wasn’t sharp.”

After losing the opening game against East Carolina, Texas is now one loss away from being sent home. The Longhorns must win two in a row over the Pirates in order to advance past the Greenville Super Regional. Sophomore pitcher Lucas Gordon is set to take the mound Saturday hoping to stave off elimination.

Despite Hansen’s struggles, Pierce said after the game that Texas’ ace could be called upon again if the Longhorns win Saturday and force a Game 3 on Sunday.

With the rowdy environment at Clark-LeClair Stadium, winning the next two games would be an impressive feat for Texas. In a venue nicknamed “The Jungle,” a stadium-record 5,723 spectators attended Friday’s game in hopes of seeing the Pirates earn their first-ever College World Series berth. 

Since the NCAA Tournament field was expanded to 64 teams in 1999, teams that lose the opening game of a Super Regional have only advanced to the College World Series 20% of the time. Despite this, Texas is in familiar territory. In 2018, Pierce’s Longhorns lost the first game of the Austin Super Regional to Tennessee Tech before winning the next two and advancing to Omaha.

“You can’t peak up,” Pierce said. “You got to maintain concentration. That’s the message to the team. That’s how we have to play the rest of the weekend.”