Coming into Friday, the goal for Vanderbilt and Virginia was simple—win one game and reach the College World Series finals.
For Texas and Ole Miss, the stakes were more daunting—one win would keep them alive, forcing a rematch on Saturday.
So, could Vanderbilt and Virginia handle their business on Friday? Or would Texas and Ole Miss force Saturday baseball?
Let's find out.
Nathan Thornhill Confounds Vanderbilt, Leads Texas to 4-0 Victory
Texas will live to play another day.
Facing elimination and a Vanderbilt offense that has scored runs at will in this tournament, the Longhorns turned to ace Nathan Thornhill on Friday. And boy, did he respond, pitching eight scoreless innings, giving up just six hits and a walk and striking out five in Texas' 4-0 win.
John Curtiss came on to finish things off, pitching a perfect ninth inning. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman recapped the Longhorns' epic afternoon from the mound:
Last out on fly ball to center. John Curtiss closes things out for Texas' second straight shutout. Texas pitching: 19 shutout innings in row— kbohls (@kbohls) June 20, 2014
Five Vanderbilt runners reached second, none saw third. Thornhill throws masterpiece.— kbohls (@kbohls) June 20, 2014
The Longhorn Network on Twitter put into perspective just how impressive the pitching has been for Texas in this tournament:
Texas pitchers have put up zeroes in 31 of 33 innings in CWS.— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) June 20, 2014
The Longhorns struck early and often and held on from there. Tyler Ferguson had a nightmare outing for Vanderbilt, lasting only 0.2 innings before being pulled. He really struggled with his control, hitting two batters and walking another to load the bases. After a strikeout, C.J. Hinojosa's infield single would score the game's first run.
Ferguson than struck out another batter and walked Madison Carter with the bases still loaded, giving Texas a 2-0 lead. That got Ferguson the hook, and his replacement, Brian Miller, got Vanderbilt out of the jam.
He got into his own jam in the bottom of the second, however. Zane Gurwitz and Brooks Marlow ripped back-to-back triples to make it 3-0, before a Mark Payton sacrifice bunt scored the game's fourth run for Texas.
That was all Texas would need by a wide margin. Vanderbilt would strand six runners on the afternoon, a pretty surprising result given how good the offense has been all tournament long. But give credit where credit is due—Thornhill was magnificent. As the old adage goes, good pitching beats good hitting.
After the contest, manager Augie Garrido had nothing but praise for his ace, via Texas Baseball on Twitter:
Garrido on how good Thornhill has been: This is who he is. He doesn't lead by telling people what to do, he leads by doing it.— Texas Baseball (@Texas_Baseball) June 20, 2014
And so that sets up a rematch between the two teams on Saturday, with a spot in the finals on the line. Texas Baseball has the details:
The Longhorns will play at 2 p.m. Tomorrow if Ole Miss wins tonight. If Virginia wins, Texas will play at 7 p.m.— Texas Baseball (@Texas_Baseball) June 20, 2014
While Texas has been lights out from the mound in its last 33 innings, the fear will be that Vanderbilt's offense could erupt. Keep in mind that coming into this game, the Commodores were averaging .312 at the plate and had scored an impressive 59 runs in the postseason.
If those bats awaken, Texas will have a hard time keeping pace. On the other hand, the Longhorns will feel confident they have the arms to take any sting out of those bats.
It's a clash of styles with a trip to the finals on the line. What more could you ask for?
Virginia vs. Ole Miss Suspended at 0-0 Until Saturday
Virginia and Ole Miss shouldn't need a seventh-inning stretch on Saturday. Both teams will have had plenty of time to rest and regroup after their College World Series contest was suspended in the second inning with a 0-0 scoreline due to extreme weather conditions.
The Associated Press (h/t NCAA.com) cited a 93-minute lightning and rain delay at TD Ameritrade Park on Friday night. It began with lightning and then a bout of heavy rain forced officials to suspend play for the evening.
The game is set to resume at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday. The Austin American-Statesman's Brian Davis had the word on how this affects Texas tomorrow:
The inclement weather might have bailed out Ole Miss in this one. Rebels starter Jeremy Massie gave up two hits and faced seven batters in just over an inning of work.
Virginia will resume play with an early threat to score. Derek Fisher and Brandon Downes will be on second and first, respectively with no outs in the top of the second inning.
It will be interesting to see how Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco handles the pitching situation. Given what he's seen from Massie so far, he could very well go with a pitching change. Rain delays and suspensions can easily throw off pitchers from a preparation standpoint, as all the adrenaline and focus built up during warmups and preparation is squandered by the weather delay.