Four days after Texas and UC Irvine battled in the first game of the 2014 College World Series, the teams will go at each other once again with the season on the line for both sides.
UC Irvine was able to win the first matchup, as the Anteaters scored three runs in the eighth inning to come away with a 3-1 victory. Unfortunately, a loss to Vanderbilt in the next round put them into the loser's bracket and one loss away from elimination.
Meanwhile, Texas was able to bounce back from the opening loss to defeat Louisville. The Longhorns will now look for redemption in the next round, with the winner advancing to face Vanderbilt with the right to go to the College World Series finals on the line.
With so much on the line, both squads know that any single play can make all the difference, and the following players will need to come through with big performances in order for their team to be successful.
Chad Hollingsworth, SP, Texas
The sophomore pitcher has made only one start this season, but that performance was enough for his team to trust him once again.
Chad Hollingsworth went up against Texas A&M in the final game of the Houston regional and came through with a complete game, two-hit effort to send his squad to the next round. According to Jeff Howe of 247 Sports, the Longhorns will turn to him again with the season on the line:
The pitcher is certainly confident in his ability to shut down his upcoming opponent. According to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman, Hollingsworth gave his brief scouting report by saying, "I know their leadoff (man) can hit, and I think after that they’re just kind of mediocre throughout. I guess we’ll see."
Of course, UC Irvine have a number of talented hitters and have proven throughout the postseason that they are capable of coming through in the big moments at any time.
Still, there is a reason Hollingsworth has a 1.36 ERA on the season. He does not strike people out, but his pitches are difficult to square up and opponents struggle to make good contact as a result. As long as he finds a way to throw strikes, the young pitcher should be able to have success in this matchup.
Tres Barrera, C, Texas
Despite being just a freshman, Tres Barrera has become the Longhorns' most important player. His best attribute is his defense behind the plate, where he has become a true leader for the pitching staff.
Mike Finger of the Houston Chronicle breaks down what separates the catcher from his peers:
In a sport in which most pitch calls come from the dugout, UT lets a freshman from Eagle Pass choose when to throw every up-and-in fastball and every low-and-away changeup. So complete is the Longhorns' trust in Barrera that [Nathan] Thornhill, their ace senior righthander, said he doesn't even bother reading scouting reports before his starts.
Barrera has total control.
With a young pitcher on the mound making just his second start, Barrera's ability to control the game will be extremely important.
The only problem is that Barrera has not been living up to his potential offensively. The clean-up hitter ranks second on the team in both home runs (five) and RBI (35), but he is just 3-for-22 over his last six games with zero extra-base hits.
Although he is clearly under a lot of pressure to produce in multiple phases of the game, he has lived up to that standard all year long. If he cannot come through this time around, however, Texas could be in trouble.
Taylor Sparks, 3B, UC Irvine
That generic leadoff hitter that Hollingsworth alluded to when discussing the UC Irvine lineup is Taylor Sparks, and he is a big reason the squad was able to pull out a win the last time these teams played.
The third baseman went 3-for-4 against Texas and was a home run shy of the cycle. He also hit the RBI triple in the eighth inning that tied the game before scoring the eventual game-winning run.
Sparks can hurt a team in a lot of ways. He is currently batting .313 to go along with 17 doubles, nine triples (best in the nation) and five home runs. He knows how to get himself into scoring position and always has a good chance of coming home with three other hitters in the lineup topping .300.
According to Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game, Sparks has received favorable reviews from scouts, which lead him to be an early pick in the MLB draft:
Still, his past accomplishments will not help the team in the next game. The tough competitor has to come through in order to get the offense going. Otherwise, the Anteaters will struggle against a good pitcher.
Sam Moore, RP, UC Irvine
If UC Irvine has a lead late in the game, Texas could be in some serious trouble. That is because the Anteaters have Sam Moore coming out of the bullpen, the nation's leader in saves this season with 23.
Moore also has a 1.85 ERA and only allowed five extra-base hits in 43.2 innings, including zero home runs.
This incredible year has already brought it share of hardware, including the nation's Gregg Olson award:
Sam Moore is the winner of the Gregg Olson "Breakout Player of the Year" award. Congrats Sam! http://t.co/xIDv41ETqw— UCI Baseball (@UCIbsb) June 16, 2014
At this point, the biggest question mark is whether Moore will be ready after a relatively uneventful postseason. UC Irvine has not had too many save opportunities throughout the NCAA tournament, and the squad has generally used Moore in low-pressure situations.
Against Texas, he needs to be ready, because it seems likely the Anteaters will need him no matter what happens. With the season on the line, there is no reason to hold anything back.
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