Baseball is a cruel sport. Just ask the Longhorns.
One-run losses tormented Texas early and often this season, and, like a plague, they hardly loosened their grip in the NCAA Tournament.
The Longhorns lost their last game just like their first contest, by one run. A 3-2 loss to Rice on Opening Day on Feb. 17 was bookended three-and-a-half months and 16 one-run losses later when Texas fell 2-1 to Long Beach State on Monday night. And this time, coming one run short came when Texas was one win away.
Texas jumped out to a 2-0 start in the Long Beach Regional last week, putting the Longhorns one win away from possibly hosting a super regional at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. They had two opportunities to get one more win, but Long Beach State celebrated back-to-back, one-run victories over Texas at Blair Field, advancing them to Super Regionals.
“Looking back we felt like we had the advantage really,” junior left fielder Travis Jones said. “They did a great job battling back and fighting with us. We fought back, but at the end of the day we lost. Man, it’s pretty crappy honestly.”
In retrospect, the consecutive one-run losses were a fitting end to the season. Not many people were expecting a run to the College World Series in head coach David Pierce’s first year at Texas, but the season certainly ended with a lot of ‘what if’s?’
Before Opening Day Pierce said, “I think we have a great team, I really do. I think just our mentality and how the pieces fall is going to be critical.”
And it was. Those pieces fell the opponent’s way in 17 of the 26 one-run games Texas took part in, two of which came when it mattered most. Following Monday night’s defeat, many Longhorns were left saying ‘what if?’ one more time as their season came to an abrupt end.
Texas didn’t have to win all 26 of those one-run games, but what if the Longhorns won just half of them? They’d be 43-20, not far from their present record, but certainly an improvement on an already solid case to host a regional.
If the Longhorns had hosted a regional, they wouldn’t have had to play three games in front of that raucous crowd in Long Beach, over 1000 miles from home. Home was truly sweet for Texas this year, highlighted by a 27-8 record at UFCU Disch-Falk Field. Away from home is a completely different story, where the Longhorns posted a 12–16 record.
The pieces just didn’t fall Texas’ way. The burnt orange didn't go .500 in those one-run games and the Longhorns’ season came down to two one-run losses on the road.
Entering the season, one thing was for sure: Longhorn fans weren’t holding their breath for a sixth national championship. They just wanted to see some — or really any — improvement from last year, and they got it.
Despite the plethora of tough losses, Pierce made Texas better in his first year. The Longhorns went 39-24 and came one win short of a Super Regionals berth. This all came one year after Augie Garrido’s final season, a year in which the Longhorns finished with a lackluster 25-32 record. While three Big 12 teams made it to Omaha, the Longhorns’ summer left plenty of time to go fishing.
Last year didn’t come down to ‘what if’s?’: Texas wasn’t even close. This year, the Longhorns were right there, just as they had been all season. And while they didn’t have enough when it mattered most, the Longhorns are in a much better place now compared to a year ago.
It’d be premature to say Texas is back, but David Pierce has the Longhorns on the right track, folks.