Big blasts give Horns another clutch win

Cameron Rupp (AP Photo)

OMAHA, Neb. - The Longhorns advanced into the national championship series with a pair of clutch ninth-inning home runs on Friday night, as they defeated Arizona State, 4-3. Burnt Orange Beat's Jason Cole takes a look back at yet another incredible finish.

Friday's game between Texas and Arizona State would have been unbelievable for most teams.

For the Longhorns, it was just another day at the College World Series.

Texas entered Friday's contest against the Sun Devils just one win away from a berth in the national championship series. Because Texas defeated ASU on Tuesday, the Sun Devils needed to win twice.

As late as the bottom of the ninth, Arizona State appeared to be closing in on forcing that final game.

Until the Longhorns showed up with their flair for the dramatic—again.

The ‘Horns belted a pair of home runs in the ninth, and they came away with their second walkoff victory of the CWS, defeating Arizona State, 4-3.

Coming into the game, ASU head coach Pat Murphy suggested he would pitch third-starter Seth Blair, citing arm troubles for ace pitcher Mike Leake.

Whether Murphy was trying to fool the Longhorns, we may never know. But he went with Leake anyway.

Though Leake was pitching on two-days rest—and Murphy claims he's been battling with tendinitis—the coach said starting him wasn't a tough decision.

"I think that Mike knew that's the direction we were going, and he wanted to go that way," Murphy said. "He wanted to pitch. One more day's rest is not going to matter."

?Texas didn't announce a starting pitcher until a few hours before the game. The Longhorns eventually called on Cole Green, who pitched last Sunday against Southern Miss.

Both hurlers came through with strong—nearly identical—performances. In fact, the game was much more reminiscent of what one would expect from the teams with the top two earned-run averages in the nation.

Arizona State struck first, scoring in the bottom of the third after the Longhorns' shaky defense showed up once again, committing two errors in as many plays.

The Sun Devils looked like they could be in for another big inning, but Green came back to strike out Johnny Ruetigger before getting Jared McDonald to ground out to second base.

Just as they have throughout the CWS, the Longhorns answered immediately.

Michael Torres led off the bottom of the third by taking a high fastball from Leake over the right-center field fence, tying the game at one apiece.

ASU put together another rally in the fourth, when left fielder Preston Clark and shortstop Brandon Loy both slipped while going after a fly ball. The result was a two-out Zack MacPhee double. He was brought home when leadoff man Drew Maggi singled, giving the Devils another one-run lead.

Both pitchers eventually settled down, but the Longhorns put another run on the board in the bottom of the fifth.

After starting his game by striking out on a heavy dose of Mike Leake sliders, Longhorns centerfielder Connor Rowe saw a fastball, and he laced it down the right field line for a leadoff double.

Augie Garrido's club then put the small ball in motion, manufacturing a run on a Michael Torres sacrifice bunt and a Travis Tucker RBI single to center, and the game was tied up at two.

Green and Leake each pitched six innings in the game, giving up two runs on eight hits. The starters turned in solid performances, but Leake's was particularly impressive given that he was pitching on just two-days rest.

"I wanted the ball," said Leake after the game. "I wanted to be the one to take us into tomorrow. During the game, I was just trying to make my pitches. That's all I could really do. I made a couple of mistakes and paid for them."

With the starters out of the equation, both teams turned to their closers in the seventh.

For the Longhorns, it was senior left-hander Austin Wood.

The Sun Devils called on freshman southpaw Mitchell Lambson.

Although both pitchers had been a bit shaky in their previous outings, they appeared to be on top of their game on Friday.

Wood and Lambson kept their opponent off the board in both the seventh and eighth innings, keeping the score knotted at two going into the ninth.

Arizona State centerfielder Jason Kipnis led off the ninth with an outstanding 11-pitch at-bat. He capped it off with a single before advancing to second on Texas' third error of the ninth.

Wood then got a flyout before striking out red-hot left fielder Kole Calhoun, and it appeared the Sun Devils might strand Kipnis at second base.

With two outs, only Zach Wilson stood in the way of a scoreless inning. Wilson, a freshman, entered the game with a .269 batting average and just four extra-base hits on the year.

The stage had been set for the unexpected.

Wilson roped a run-scoring triple down the right field line, giving Arizona State the late advantage.

The RBI was Wilson's first since May 10.

ASU coach Pat Murphy has spoken all week on how he felt his club was a team of destiny.

Kipnis believed Wilson's hit had proved just that.

"I honestly thought, going into the bottom of the ninth, that it was our game," he said. "Just to have something come together like that."

The Longhorns have made a living off dramatic comebacks this postseason, but Friday's game looked different. While Wilson got the big hit, Lambson—one of the nation's top relievers—had retired all six batters he'd faced, striking out four.

The freshman began the bottom of the ninth by striking out Brandon Loy.

Then he had to face Cameron Rupp, who burned the Devils with two home runs on Tuesday.

Rupp got a 3-1 fastball and hammered it well over the fence in dead centerfield. The ball flew approximately 440 feet, and the Longhorns had tied the game at three.

"That ball was crushed," said Austin Wood after the game.

The magic was back on the Longhorns' side.

"We go up there every inning looking to win," Rupp said. "Like coach says, it's nine rounds of boxing."

With the score in the inning—and game—only tied, the Longhorns knew there was still work to be done.

Rowe stepped to the plate with two outs, looking to just get on base. The Georgetown native already faced Lambson three times over the last two games, and he had a feeling he knew what was coming.

"I faced [Lambson] three times, and every time he kept throwing me changeup, changeup, changeup," Rowe explained. "I don't think I saw one fastball from him.

"I looked over at Coach Garrido, and he gave me the box, which is right down the middle. I was definitely sitting on a changeup, and that's what I got."

Lambson's changeup had already fooled a number of Texas' hitters on Friday, but not Rowe.

Rowe took the change and hammered it two rows deep into the left field bleachers, and chaos ensued.

As the centerfielder rounded the bases, he pumped his fists, pulled his helmet off, and spiked it into the ground. All the while, the team was waiting to mob him at home plate.

It was yet another bizarre, dramatic victory for the ‘Horns.

The more this happens, the more people begin to call the 2009 Texas Longhorns a team of destiny.

Austin Wood knows there's still work to be done.

"We've got two games left," Wood said. "I guess we'll find out by Wednesday, that's for sure. We just try to go out there and do our jobs. Whether we're a team of destiny—that's still yet to be determined.

"ASU is a good team. We took care of them, but we've got to get ready and focused for LSU."

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