The Longhorns woke up Sunday morning needing two wins to keep their season alive. Thanks to the unlikeliest hero of them all, they went to bed Sunday night needing just one more to advance.
Against Kent State, Kevin Lusson smoked his second home run in 24 hours over the right-field wall — an inch or so away from getting Texas fans free Frostys. In the earlier game against Texas State, Lusson drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth.
All more-than-welcome contributions from the guy who came into this Austin Regional hitting .190.
“I’m really happy for Kevin, I’m thrilled by his success,” said head coach Augie Garrido. “It’s been a tough season for him, and for him to find success is one of the things that brings joy to a coach.”
In the past three ballgames, Lusson has had seven RBIs.
“I’m feeling really comfortable,” said the junior catcher. “The last few weeks, I’ve changed my approach; I call it the Moldenhauer Approach.”
According to Lusson, the Moldenhauer Approach — a reference to last year’s designated hitter Russell Moldenhauer — is a simple one.
“Hit bombs,” he said.
His ninth-inning homer Saturday night against Kent State brought the Longhorns within two. The team ended up losing, but Lusson called his hit a “personal victory.”
He sure has needed some of those. As a sophomore last year, Lusson hit 14 home runs as the everyday starter at third base. But this year’s new, power-sapping bats and the emergence of Erich Weiss at third have put Lusson’s playing time on the Endangered Watch.
“You can’t play a lot of people in baseball, so he’s been caught in a difficult situation all year long,” Garrido said.
Lusson is just one of many underappreciated players who have played major roles for the Longhorns this weekend.
Freshman catcher Jacob Felts, who has struggled with the bat all season, is 4-for-12 in the regional. Jonathan Walsh, the boom-or-bust slugger, turned in a 4-for-8 day on Sunday. Even Tim Maitland — a .182 hitter — is finding ways to contribute, laying down a gorgeous drag bunt against Texas State in the ninth-inning rally.
“It’s definitely huge to have everybody hitting,” said freshman right-fielder Mark Payton. “It’s not even just the 1-9 guys in the lineup. We’ve had pinch-hitters come out and get home runs and base hits.”
With the Longhorns winning both games of Sunday’s twin bill, they’re one win away from advancing to the Super Regional. A loss would be considered a major disappointment for a team that has spent all year in the top 10 and earned one of eight national seeds.
“Being in this must-win situation, it’s a lot of pressure,” Weiss said. “But we live for that. We’re comfortable and we’re ready.”
Both Hoby Milner and Nathan Thornhill threw a high number of pitches Sunday against the Flashes, leaving Garrido no other choice than to tab junior Sam Stafford as Monday’s starter. Stafford, who threw 108 pitches in Texas’ 5-3 win over Princeton on Friday, will look to finish the regional the way he started.
“I gave [pitching coach] Skip Johnson a heads up that I’d be ready to go if they needed me,” Stafford said. “We’re in a tight situation, and my arm feels good.”
Stafford threw long toss before Sunday’s game, and says durability shouldn’t be a problem.
“My arm is stretched out, so I’ll go as long as they need me,” he said.
Ace Taylor Jungmann, who picked up his first loss of the season Saturday against Kent State, may even be of some assistance.
“We’ve talked some about using him,” Stafford said. “We’ll see how he feels.”
Said Garrido: “We’ll take roll in the morning.”
The more help the better.