OMAHA, Neb. — Here they are again.
The Longhorns, who have spent all season under the gun, face a familiar opponent today in the College World Series: elimination.
“It’s do or die,” said freshman Erich Weiss. “Again. I’d say we’re the most experienced team in the losers’ bracket.”
Because Texas lost the first game of its Omaha trip, a 8-4 loss to Florida on Saturday night, it must now beat North Carolina today to keep its season alive.
After that, the team would have to win three more in this double-elimination bracket to make it to the CWS Finals.
“We can’t focus on the championship or anything like that. We just have to focus on North Carolina,” Weiss said.
It will be a steep climb, one that could have been avoided if the Longhorns had been able to hold on to a 3-0 lead over Florida — a game that saw Taylor Jungmann, once noted for his ability to pitch well in big games, lose his third consecutive postseason match.
“We had a few mistakes and we didn’t capitalize on our chances,” Weiss said. “It’s one that got away.”
If you’ve followed the Longhorns all season, you know that they are best with their backs against the wall. They won three straight elimination games in the Austin Regional. They won two more elimination games in the Super Regional. This team has a confidence in these situations. Everything — each pitch, each at-bat and each coaching decision — becomes dire, and the margin for error shrivels.
“It’s tough to fight from behind all the time, but we’ve been done this the past couple of weeks,” said junior Brandon Loy. “And it’s prepared us for what we’re about to go through this week.”
Earlier, Texas had to beat Texas State and Kent State (twice) and then win two in a row against Arizona State. This challenge is a whole different monster. Texas will now have to top North Carolina (50-15) and then beat both Vanderbilt (53-10) and a 51-17 Florida team (and will have to beat one of those teams twice) just to make it the championship series.
Smart, sensible money has this team taking down the Tar Heels at 1:00 p.m. today with bulldog Cole Green taking the mound and the recent record of strong offensive play in win-or-go-home games.
“We didn’t expect to lose the first game, but it’s something we’ve done before,” Green said. “The season has been on [the] line in my past two starts, and that helps going into this game.”
What will be most challenging will be the fight against exhaustion, and the worry that this team does not believe it can take down such highly seeded teams. But the Longhorns were surprisingly loose and upbeat during the team’s practice Sunday at Creighton’s baseball stadium.
“We feel confident with Cole. He’s been lights out in the playoffs,” Weiss said.
They also feel confident they can somehow climb out of another deep hole. Texas’ best attribute is not its hitting, and after Saturday night’s staff implosion, it might not be its pitching. It’s the team’s now-famous killer instinct, something the Longhorns point out each time they lose some big postseason game.
“With our backs against the wall, we’ve got a real good killer instinct,” said junior Jordan Etier. “We just need to stay together as a team.”
If you need further proof that this never-say-die Texas team can pull it off, look no further than last year. South Carolina lost its first game, then won six in a row to take the CWS championship.
Time will tell if the Longhorns are destined to pull it off. But we do know one thing: They’ve done this before.