Nathan Thornhill

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill led Texas past Vanderbilt Friday, pitching eight shutout innings en route to victory. 

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

OMAHA, Neb. - Dominant pitching and early scoring led the Longhorns to a 4-0 victory over the Commodores in Omaha Friday, setting up a rematch Saturday, for a trip to the Championship Series.

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill was brilliant on the mound, tossing eight innings of shut-out baseball and only surrendering six hits in what might have been his final start as a Longhorn. Thornhill had the Vanderbilt off balance all afternoon, despite being forced to throw 131 pitches, as his effort kept Texas from being eliminated for at least one more day.

“This is who he is," Texas head coach Augie Garrido said. "He doesn't lead by telling people what to do, he leads by doing it himself. He leads by example."

The Longhorns struck first, thanks to Vanderbilt starter Tyler Ferguson’s lack of control to begin the game. Ferguson hit junior second baseman Brooks Marlow with the first pitch of the game. Ferguson continued to pitch wildly in the first innning, as he walked sophomore leftfielder Ben Johnson and then hit senior centerfielder Mark Payton to load the bases with no outs.

Freshman catcher Tres Barrera struck out, bringing up sophomore shortstop CJ Hinojosa, who was the hero against UC Irvine, with one out and the bases loaded.  Hinojosa hit a sharp liner that ahad the potential to turn into a double play, but, fortunately for Texas, it hit the second base umpire, leading to a dead ball that advanced all the runners and scored Texas’ first run of the game.

Junior right fielder Collin Shaw then struck out, but the Longhorns scored another run in the first when senior designated hitter Madison Carter walked to score a run. After walking in the second run, Ferguson, who had only thrown 12 of his 27 pitches for strikes, was pulled.

The strong start, and specifically Hinojosa’s lucky hit, gave Texas momentum and allowed the Longhorns to take control of the game.

“It got us off to an early lead which we always like," Payton said. “That’s our goal on the offensive side, to let our pitcher settle down, and we were able to do that today.”

The Longhorns struck with two more in the second, via back-to-back triples by freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz and Marlow. Marlow scored after Payton layed down a sacrifice bunt and was called safe at first after an error.

Once the Longhorns took the early lead, Vanderbilt was never able to get back in the game, as Thornhill consistently got the better of the Commodores.  

Texas has impressed in their three contests since falling in the College World Series opener and appear to relish the "must-win" situations they have been forced to deal with.

“We got that mind that its either you win or you go home," Marlow said. "I think that’s what everyone is taking in after that first game against [UC] Irvine. If you lose you go home. I think that’s the mindset everyone has taken.”

The Longhorns will play the Commodores again Saturday at 7 p.m. Parker French will get the start for Texas.

Photo Credit: Sam Ortega | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns’ journey to this year’s College World Series didn’t start on Valentine’s Day in California, when Texas opened its season against the California Golden Bears.

It didn’t start last fall, when the team was barred from its own clubhouse and forced to feel like visitors in their own ballpark as they went through exhaustive workouts and team bonding exercises.

No, the Longhorns’ surprising run to Omaha began last summer, when their two veteran leaders, Nathan Thornhill and Mark Payton, passed on the opportunity to go pro and elected to return to Austin for their senior season.

“Getting to the College World Series was one of our goals when we decided to come back together,” Payton said. “We’re not done with our job yet. We have a lot more work to do, but it feels good to know that we’re getting close to what we came back for.”

While Thornhill and Payton both attribute their return to a mutual desire to bring the Texas baseball program back to the national powerhouse it has long been known as, head coach Augie Garrido said it wasn’t that easy.

“It took four months of begging on my part,” Garrido said.

No matter how much pleading it might have taken, there’s no doubt Garrido’s efforts were worth it, given how much of an impact the two seniors have had on his ball club.

Thornhill, a Cedar Park native, has been Texas’ most efficient and dependable pitcher this season, taking the mound in several of the Longhorns’ most important contests. As the anchor of perhaps the best pitching staff Garrido has coached at Texas, Thornhill’s 8-2 record and 1.57 ERA entering the College World Series are an obvious explanation of why his manager gave him the ball in the opener.

Payton, who hails from Chicago, has meant just as much to the Longhorn lineup as Thornhill has to their pitching staff. The 5’8” spark plug has come up with countless clutch hits and is as sure-handed as they come in center field. His incomprehensible 101-game on-base streak finally came to an end in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine in Omaha, but Payton’s consistent play has been vital to Texas’ success all season.

“[Payton’s] a very selfless person,” sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa said. “The word selfish is used a lot in baseball and this kid is the complete opposite of that. He is always looking out for the guy next to him. That’s part of what’s good because he is our senior leader along with Nate [Thornhill].”

While Thornhill and Payton’s respective contributions to the team’s success on the diamond can’t be overstated, it is their leadership off the field that has helped the younger players overcome the struggles of the last two seasons.

As two of only four players left from the 2011 team that made it to Omaha, Thornhill and Payton have worked all season to instill in their teammates an understanding of just how much effort it takes to get to that point.

Now that they’ve made it, the two veteran leaders have a simple message for their young teammates: Just play ball, relax and enjoy the experience

“The guys who haven’t been are just going to have to hop in and do what they’ve done to get us to this point,” Payton said. “You just have to jump in and play your game and have fun doing it. Obviously, you can’t take going to the College World Series for granted. You just have to go out and have fun doing it.

Now settled in at the College World Series, Thornhill and Payton have certainly had time to reflect on their final season wearing burnt orange. It’s been an incredible ride, but there is still work to be done.

“It is,” Thornhill said when asked if this NCAA Tournament run has been somewhat of a fairy tale ending. “Not yet though. Being [in Omaha] is one thing, but winning there is a whole other thing.”

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

Three whole years — that’s how long it took for the senior Longhorns’ to return to Omaha for the College World Series. 

After making the trip to Omaha as freshmen, Texas’ senior class assumed the journey to the Midwest would be an annual occurrence. But the last couple of years haven’t been too kind to Texas baseball. After the 2011 season, it seemed as though all success had evaded the team.

“I took [success] for granted,” senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill said at a press conference. “Baseball kind of came back to get me.”

For Thornhill and fellow senior Mark Payton, the sense of unfinished business brought them back to Austin for their senior years. Both players passed up the opportunity to turn pro after being drafted in the 2013 MLB draft, but there was never any doubt that they had made the right decision by staying in school.

“It was worth it before we were going to Omaha,” Thornhill said. “It was in the fall knowing that we were doing everything we could to get going in the right direction. Going to Omaha and having an opportunity to compete for a national championship is icing on the cake.”

Those fall workouts were grueling, but they prepared the team to battle through a difficult Big 12 schedule — a conference with two other teams in the College World Series. The workouts got the team ready to go through a tough regional that included Rice and rival Texas A&M, and they also helped Texas sweep Houston to advance to Omaha. But most importantly, fall training brought the players together and helped them form a strong bond.

“A great group of guys: That’s one thing that helps it,” Thornhill said. “We’ve suffered together. We’ve won together. That’s what makes you brothers, and that’s what makes us a great team. We still love each other, and it’s been a lot of fun.” 

So now more than ever, the team will look to each other to make their run at a national championship, a feat that has not been accomplished since 2005. Head coach Augie Garrido wants his team to focus on one another rather than worrying about the uncontrollable things. 

“It’s still about staying focused on one another and playing the game the way you know how,” Garrido said. “Play the game that you have. Don’t try to create a new one now that you’re in a different environment.”

While nerves may factor into the games, the environment the Longhorns will be playing in won’t be overwhelmingly different. TD Ameritrade Park plays incredibly big, much like Texas’ UFCU Disch-Falk Field. 

The competition won’t be any more difficult than the teams they had to get past to get to this point. The key to the Longhorns success in Omaha will be whether they trust themselves and don’t overthink the game.

“That’s all you can ever do, we teach that from the very beginning,” Garrido said. “It’s about the game. You have to have respect for the game itself and you have to play the game and not the opponent.”

Now that Texas has played a game in Omaha, a 3-1 loss to UC-Irvine, the younger players also know how it feels to make it to college baseball’s biggest stage. Despite the new environment for most of the players, Texas will continue, as it has all season, to rely on each other throughout their championship run.

“As a team we’re going out there for each other,” Payton said. “That’s what we’re doing right now, just going out playing for each other, playing for the coaches, playing for the guy next to us and not letting each other down.”

UC Irvine's Grant Palmer (27) reaches second base on a double against Texas second baseman Brooks Marlow (8), in the second inning of an NCAA baseball College World Series game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, June 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Dave Weaver)

Photo Credit: AP Exchange | Daily Texan Staff

The Texas Longhorns gave up five hits and three runs in the eighth inning, blowing a 1-0 lead, as they fell to the UC Irvine Anteaters, 3-1, in the opening game of the College World Series.

Senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill pitched a solid seven and a third innings, but was tagged with the loss after allowing two runs.

The Anteaters threatened in the first inning when third baseman Andrew Sparks singled  and advanced to second on an error and reached third with one out. Thornhill pitched out of that jam to strand the runner at third as he would do in three of UC Irvine’s first four innings.

The Longhorns had a chance to get an early lead off of Andrew Morales, after junior second baseman Brooks Marlow and sophomore outfielder Ben Johnson both walked. Senior centerfielder Mark Payton bunted them over but freshman catcher Tres Barrera and sophomore shortstop C.J Hinojosa both were retired to strand two in scoring position.

Texas struck first in the  bottom of the second when junior rightfielder Collin Shaw doubled and senior designated hitter Madison Carter bunted him over to third. Freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens managed to reach base, leading to freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz who drove in Shaw on an infield bunt single.

Texas had the bases loaded with one out but couldn’t produce a second run, a common theme as the team stranded 12 on base, and only hit 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the game.

UC Irvine also wasted plenty of opportunities, leaving six on base, but managed to get three across the plate in the decisive eighth inning.  Texas allowed three extra base hits in the contest after only surrendering two such hits in its first six NCAA Tournament games.

Texas will face the loser of tonight’s game between Vanderbilt and Louisville at 2 p.m. Monday. The Longhorns now sit one loss away from elimination, and will need to win four straight to reach the Championship.

Mark Payton’s record on-base streak of 101 games ended in the loss, as he went 0-for-4 and was out on a sacrifice bunt.


Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

Almost exactly a year after they decided to return to Texas for their senior seasons, Mark Payton and Nathan Thornhill propelled Texas to a 4-2 win over Houston in the first game of the Super Regionals Friday.

Payton got the Longhorns off to a great start with a two-run homerun to right field in the first inning and finished the game with three hits. Thornhill pitched seven solid innings for Texas, giving up just two runs on seven hits while striking out three.

“The two seniors that came back led the way didn’t they?” Texas head coach Augie Garrido asked rhetorically after the game. “Nate [Thornhill] pitched really, really well and Mark [Payton] obviously had the big homerun.”

For Payton, it was quite the afternoon. Not only did he hit his second homerun of the season, extending his on-base streak to 100 games, he was also selected by the New York Yankees in the seventh round of the MLB Draft.

“I’m not worried about [the MLB] right now,” Payton said. “I’m just going to be ready for tomorrow and come ready to play. My focus right now is to be a Longhorn and to win tomorrow.”

The heralded seniors led the way for Texas, but the elders got plenty of help from the rest of the lineup. All nine Longhorn hitters reached base in the game and Thornhill got plenty of help from the guys behind him, including three double plays in the infield.

Sophomore pitcher John Curtiss, who was just named an Academic All-American earlier in the week, closed out the game for Texas, giving up just one hit over the final two innings.

Parker French will get the start for Texas in the second game of the series tomorrow. Game time is set for 1 PM CT at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

When Texas A&M left the Longhorns and the Big 12 in 2012 for the greener pastures of the SEC, it looked like the death of an ancient and sacred rivalry. On Friday the Longhorns and Aggies renewed their rivalry, and the promised green pastures of the SEC did not yield for A&M, as the Longhorns cruised to an 8-1 victory over their old enemies in the Houston regional of the NCAA baseball tournament.

Texas' senior ace Nathan Thornhill took the mound against Aggie junior Daniel Mengden in front of a record crowd at Reckling Park in Houston, in what appeared early on to be a pitcher’s nightmare.

Thornhill had to work carefully to escape a threat in the first. Aggie second baseman Blake Allemand reached on a scorcher off the heel of freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens’ glove and stole second, only to be stranded after three straight outs.

Junior second baseman Brooks Marlow led off the Longhorn half of the inning by pulling a line drive over the right field wall for a solo homerun. The Longhorns added another run in the frame after senior centerfielder Mark Payton drove in sophomore left fielder Ben Johnson from second for a 2-0 Texas advantage to provide Thornhill with an early cushion.

“We have a really good defense behind us at all times, and whether they are getting hits or not I know they are good hitters,” Thornhill said. “It makes you comfortable on the mound knowing you have your guys behind you.”

Thornhill’s solid pitching made sure that the Longhorns would not need any more offense for the afternoon. After giving up a run in the second following a single and a wild pitch, the senior fought through some tough calls and several A&M scoring threats to pitch seven innings of one run ball.

The Longhorns did make sure to add plenty of insurance runs, as a four-run third inning drove Mengden out of the game trailing 7-1.

Lefty sophomore Matt Kent steadied the Aggie ship by pitching five and two-thirds efficient innings and only giving up one run in relief of Mengden.

Texas freshman right-hander Morgan Cooper picked up Thornhill’s effort in the eighth to close out an 8-1 victory that bodes well for head coach Augie Garrido’s squad moving forward.

“I think during the stretch where we put up about five zero's on the board we still hit the ball hard and competed at the plate,” Garrido said. “If you can stay in the winner's bracket, that's the right ride.”

The win sets the stage for a matchup Saturday at 7 pm against the winner of Friday night’s tilt between Rice and George Mason. 

The No. 22 Texas Longhorns blew a 1-0 lead in the 8th inning, after sophomore pitcher John Curtiss worked himself into a jam in relief of senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill.  Thornhill threw six innings of shutout baseball, allowing only two hits.

The Longhorns struck first in the fifth inning. Junior rightfielder Collin Shaw singled to lead off the inning and, after a sacrifice bunt by freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens, freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz singled advancing Shaw to third. That was followed by a walk to junior second baseman Brooks Marlow to load the bases. Sophomore leftfielder Ben Johnson drove in Texas’ only run with a sharp single to the shortstop with the bases loaded.

Senior centerfielder Mark Payton walked in the first inning to reach base for a Big 12 record 94th consecutive game. But Payton was unable to capitalize with the bases loaded in the fifth, grounding into an inning ending double play.

The Cowboys answered with three in the bottom of the eighth thanks to five hits.

Texas falls to 32-2 on the season when leading after seven innings.

The Longhorns are currently playing Oklahoma State to decide who will move on to face TCU in the Championship on Sunday. The Cowboys currently lead 3-1 in the fourth inning. The game is currently under a rain delay.

TCU swept Mark Payton and the Longhorns in Austin this weekend. Texas scored only one run during the three game series and managed just 17 hits against the Horned Frogs. 

Photo Credit: Andrea Kurth | Daily Texan Staff

Saturday afternoon, for the third consecutive day, the No. 6 Longhorns found themselves in the middle of a pitching duel. And, just like the first two, the Longhorns came out on the losing end, falling 3-1 as TCU completed a series sweep in front of the largest crowd of the season at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

“When you score one in three games, you don’t win many of them,” head coach Augie Garrido said.

The Longhorns (30-11, 9-6 Big 12) had their chance in the ninth, as they loaded the bases with just one out. But freshman DH Andy McGuire grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game.

“It stings,” senior center fielder Mark Payton said. “We have a lot of heart, a lot of passion. We are going to bounce back from this.”

Senior Nathan Thornhill (6-1) and his .78 ERA pitched well for the Longhorns in a losing effort. In 6.2 innings, Thornhill allowed just five hits and two runs. Thornhill looked nearly unstoppable through five innings. 

After that, Thornhill began to get in trouble. He got out of a 30-pitch sixth unscathed, but the momentum carried over into the seventh. A one-out RBI double by Dylan Fitzgerald tied the game up at one, and a two-out single brought him home to give TCU (26-13, 10-4 Big 12) the lead for good.

While Thornhill was dealing on the mound for the Longhorns, Tyler Alexander held his own for TCU. He allowed just six hits in his five innings and surrendered just one run. The bullpen for the Horned Frogs then shut out the Longhorns to protect the win.

“I saw two good pitching staffs going after each other,” Thornhill said.

Texas’ only score came in the first on junior right fielder Collin Shaw’s RBI dribbler down the line to give Texas its first and only run of the series.

That was all the Longhorns would get as they fell from their previous Big 12 standings.

“Losing three games hurts you,” Garrido said. “We had a chance to control our own destiny.”

In the second game of the series Friday night, the Longhorns were shut out 2-0 by TCU’s pitching staff. Preston Morrison went seven scoreless, allowing just four hits for the Longhorns.

Junior pitcher Dillon Peters got the nod for Texas and went 6.2 innings, allowing eight hits and two runs. But he got no support from his offense who was shut out for the second straight game. Payton, however, did extend his nation-leading 80-game reach-base streak with a walk Friday and hit Saturday.

The Longhorns continue Tuesday against UT-Pan American before a crucial match-up against Big 12-leading Oklahoma State (29-11, 11-4 Big 12).

Photo Credit: Jarrid Denman | Daily Texan Staff

Not too many pitchers can throw a complete game, allow just one run and still manage to suffer an increase in their ERA.

But that’s exactly what happened to senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill on Sunday afternoon against Oklahoma that resulted in an 8-1 win.

He went the distance, pitched a gem — and his ERA climbed from 0.73 to 0.78.  

“You know you’re the man when you only give up one run, and your ERA goes up,” sophomore reliever Chad Hollingsworth tweeted. “[Thornhill] is that dude.”

But the road for Thornhill — who was named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Week on Monday — to get there took some turns. After being selected by the Houston Astros in the 24th round of the MLB Draft, Thornhill spurned them to return to Texas in an attempt to put the Longhorns back on the map after a low year.

And that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s anchored a staff that ranks No. 6 in the nation in ERA. His Big 12 leading and national top-10 0.78 ERA definitely helps that. Texas is 29-8 and No. 6 in the nation. The Longhorns are back on top of the Big 12, and their confidence is at an all-time high.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Thornhill said. “We know what our plan is at the plate. We know what our plan is on defense and pitching, and, if we go and execute that, the game should come out in our favor.”

Thornhill has allowed just four runs in seven starts. And all this for a guy who, at one point, wasn’t even in the opening weekend rotation, finding himself behind junior pitcher Lukas Schiraldi.

He began to settle into the pen, with a real possibility of taking over the closer role. In eight relief innings, he allowed just one run while recording two wins and two saves.

After a few starts for Schiraldi went sour, Thornhill regained his spot in the rotation and hasn’t looked back. He has already recorded a career-high six wins this season without even losing one. His WHIP is below one, and his opponents are hitting just 0.168 against him.

But Thornhill doesn’t let the hype get to him, as he’s still focused on improving.

“Last year, I started to kind of figure out what kind of pitcher I was and then just [built] upon that this year,” Thornhill said. “I’ve just continued to work with [pitching coach] Skip [Johnson] and listen to him because I need to be a sponge when he’s talking.”

When Texas faces UT-Arlington on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Disch-Falk Field, Thornhill will be resting his arm, watching Schiraldi deal and getting ready for this weekend’s series against TCU. 

“It is a lot different,” Thornhill said. “It is a lot more fun. I think that is the biggest part. With the wins, come more fun. You like that feeling, and you don’t want to have the other feeling.”

The No. 15 Longhorns strong-armed the competition in the Houston College Classic behind their exceptional pitching staff that allowed only two earned runs in three games.

Junior pitcher Dillon Peters took the mound against No. 12 Rice on Friday night, striking out six in eight shutout innings of work. Texas jumped on the Owls early, scoring two runs in the fourth inning, which ended up being all it needed to dispatch Rice 2-0.

Freshman infielder/pitcher Kacy Clemens reached on a single up the middle before freshman catcher Tres Barrera doubled to right field to put the first run on the board. Sophomore outfielder Ben Johnson doubled to left center in Texas’ next at-bat, scoring Barrera.

Texas held the 2-0 lead into the ninth, when senior pitcher Nathan Thornhill picked up his first save of the year in relief of Peters, striking out two of the four batters he faced. The Longhorns recorded six hits in the game, four of which came from Clemens and Johnson who both went 2-for-3 at the plate.

Texas’ domination on the mound continued in its second game of the weekend, as junior pitcher Parker French allowed just one earned run in seven strong innings against Houston. French struck out seven Cougars, ending Houston’s undefeated season while allowing seven hits in the Longhorns’ 3-2 victory.

The teams traded runs in the second inning as Houston scored the first run of the game on an RBI single by senior outfielder Landon Appling. In the bottom half of the inning, Johnson grounded out to second base which scored freshman infielder Andy McGuire to tie the score at one a piece.

Senior outfielder Mark Payton got back into the hit column against Houston after his 18-game hit streak came to an end against Rice, doubling in a run in the bottom of the third. Clemens came across the plate after a fielding error by the Cougars, bringing the Texas lead to 3-1.

Despite a Houston run in the top of the ninth, Thornhill came in to record the last out of the game, picking up his second save on the season and second in two games. Sophomore infielder C.J Hinojosa tallied two of the Longhorns’ four hits in the contest.

In its last game on Sunday, Texas showcased its resiliency with a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Sam Houston State. Sam Houston State took advantage of shaky pitching in the first inning, scoring two runs on two hits and an error by the Texas defense.

The Longhorns responded with two runs in the seventh inning in lieu of a sacrifice bunt by Hinojosa and a single by Clemens that scored Payton.

Texas notched the winning run in the top of the eighth on a sacrifice fly by junior outfielder Collin Shaw. Clemens and Shaw tallied two hits apiece to make up four of Texas’ 10 in the game.

The Longhorns will attempt to continue their win streak at home against Valparaiso on Tuesday night.