Converted reliever Ben Hunter continued his brilliance as a starter for Wake Forest, pitching the Demon Deacons past Brown, 4-2, in the NCAA Regional Tournament Saturday afternoon at The Dell Diamond.
Hunter (8-6) led the Deacons to victory, allowing just one run in a career-long eight innings of work. The righthander tied his career-high with 10 strikeouts in his eighth start of the season.
Wake Forest spotted Hunter two runs in the first inning but didn’t score again until the ninth. Hunter made the runs hold up, though, as he allowed just a run in the third inning before giving way to relievers Eric Niesen and Josh Ellis in the ninth.
The win advances the Deacs (34-28) in the loser’s bracket and eliminates Ivy League champion Brown (27-21). Wake will now face the loser of tonight’s game between top-seeded Texas and second-seeded UC Irvine on Sunday at 12 p.m. CT. The winner of that game will advance to the Regional championship on Sunday at 6 p.m. CT. If the Deacons advance that far, they would need to win on Sunday evening and then again on Monday afternoon to make the Super Regionals.
They have better hitting. They have better defense. They have a better attitude.
The Texas Longhorns have sworn all year that 2007 is not 2006. But one year later, they’re in the same place, the same scary situation.
A flat Longhorns team was taken out of its game Saturday, frustrated by strong pitching by Scott Gorgen and an aggressive UC Irvine team, which sent Texas to the loser’s bracket with a 3-1 victory in the Round Rock Regional at Dell Diamond.
It was in the second game of regional play last year that Stanford shocked Texas 12-8, sending the Longhorns into the loser’s bracket and headed toward elimination.
The Horns swear this is not a repeat of last year.
“It’s not,” Texas coach Augie Garrido said. “This team has a different attitude. I see it in the way they carry themselves, in the way they approach the game and in the way they stay focused no matter what.”
The Longhorns are going to need to stay focused for three straight games to advance. It starts at noon today when Texas (45-16), the top seed in the regional, takes on third-seeded Wake Forest at Dell Diamond in an elimination game. The winner will take on UC Irvine at 6 p.m.
The Anteaters (42-15-1) made it look easy Saturday. They made the plays defensively. They made the pitches.
UC Irvine opened the game with a triple by Taylor Holiday and an RBI single by Ben Orloff to take a 1-0 lead.
In Texas’ first at-bat, the Longhorns were robbed of an RBI double off the bat of Russell Moldenhauer, as Anteaters center fielder Ollie Linton, who began the year on the bench but was inserted for his speed, made a beautiful catch in right-center field.
He took away another RBI double off Moldenhauer’s bat in the sixth inning.
“The separation oddly enough was in the outfielder,” Garrido said. “The two plays by the center fielder off of Moldenhauer’s bat took away runs. It was all of their defense. Basically they did not give us an extra base or an extra out the entire game.”
The Longhorns made three errors, including two by shortstop Chais Fuller. One of those miscues led to a run and a 2-0 deficit in the third inning.
“They put a lot of pressure on you with their guys in motion and the bunting, but I don’t think that we were playing tight defensively,” Fuller said. “I just made a couple of bad plays. It happens. I feel horrible about it.”
The Longhorns got a run back in the bottom of the third, when Bradley Suttle hit his 11th home run of the season, a smash to left field, but that was it.
Gorgen pitched his third complete game of the season, fooling the Texas hitters with a changeup-fastball combination.
After Suttle’s home run, the Longhorns failed to get a runner past second base.
“I’m feeling great. I feel like it’s the middle of March again,” Gorgen said. “I’m feeling stronger than ever. We’re going to have to stay mentally tough.”
So will Texas, which has a big hill to climb. Left-hander Austin Wood will start against Wake Forest for a pitching staff that will be extremely thin for the next three games. And the Longhorns’ bats have to come around.
“Our pitching staff is solid, and we have a much better offense than we had last year,” Suttle said. “We’re just going to have to come out and do what we’ve been doing all year.”
They might need more.
“We’re going to have to have a hero,” Garrido said. “We get in this position and somebody is going to have to step up and be the hero. Here’s everybody’s chance to make history at the University of Texas.
“It’s going to be done around the country in the 16 regionals. Multiple teams are going to come out of the loser’s bracket. It happens all the time, every year.”