The College World Series is over for the Texas Longhorns.
A day after the Longhorns dropped a 4-3 decision to the Vanderbilt Commodores, fans will lament the fact that Texas left 10 men on base – seven in scoring position. They will wonder what happened in the bottom of the 10th when, after getting two quick outs, closer John Curtiss couldn’t get that elusive third out to preserve a tie game. Three errors cost the Longhorns a run and forced the team to play from behind the entire night.
Vanderbilt plays the Virginia Cavaliers in the College World Series Championship series.
Despite all of these shortcomings, this season has to be considered a success.
Remember this is pretty much the same team that finished last in the Big 12 in 2013 and hadn’t made a postseason appearance in two years. A return to the College World Series was a distant thought on most fan’s minds.
So, what changed?
It all started in the offseason when the coaching staff worked on changing the attitude. The word “entitlement” was tossed around as the reason why the club had struggled the last few years. Augie Garrido wanted to fix that for 2014.
Garrido also landed one of the country’s top recruiting classes. Tres Barrera, Kacy Clemens, Zane Gurwitz and Andy McGuire arrived on campus and played pivotal roles throughout the season.
The pitching staff, a strength in 2013, was even better this season. Curtiss returned from Tommy John surgery and stepped into the closer role. Nathan Thornhill, Dillon Peters and Parker French returned to anchor one of college baseball’s best rotations. Morgan Cooper and Travis Duke were outstanding out of the bullpen. And, of course, who could forget Chad Hollingsworth and his post season heroics.
The offense improved, albeit not quite to what fans had seen in past years. Mark Payton was the spark plug. The senior from Chicago made getting on base an art form, reaching base in an NCAA-record 101 consecutive games. Texas still stranded way too many batters, especially against quality pitchers. No doubt that will be a focus of hitting coach Tommy Nicholson this offseason.
Madison Carter, Ben Johnson, CJ Hinojosa and Brooks Marlow all showed improvement at the plate, meaning the future looks bright if these players can continue to improve. The offense loses Payton and Carter, but return an experienced lineup. Texas has another pretty good freshman class coming to town to bolster an offense that should be good enough to return to the College World Series in 2015.
The big questions surround the players who were drafted. Will Peters, French, Curtiss and Schiraldi return? Curtiss was a sixth round pick, so he is most likely gone. Peters suffered an elbow injury late in the season. The Miami Marlins still drafted him in the 10th round, but claim he needs Tommy John surgery. If this is the case, Peters won’t be available to pitch in 2015, He might as well sign with the Marlins. Schiraldi went in the 15th, while Parker was selected in the 19th. It would be great if both of these players returned for their senior seasons to solidify the rotation.
The sting of a tough loss will stick around for a while. But this team should not hang its head. In his post-game press conference, Garrido summarized what this team was able to accomplish in the postseason.
“They [Texas] finished fifth in the league and here they are third in the country.”
I think Longhorn fans will take that.