Clutch Play Guides Texas To OmahaColumns
AUSTIN, Texas — David Pierce always knew Texas had the pieces in place for a quick return to the College World Series.
No, this wasn’t in the last week or in the past few months, or even at the end of last season as the Longhorns ended the year at the Long Beach Regional. Pierce thought that from the day he took over the program from legendary skipper Augie Garrido.
Shortly after he was hired in Austin, Pierce met with local and national media alike, and he went through what he thought the program needed. He noticed Texas players spent a lot of time pressing in big situations. That’s easy to do at a place like Texas. After all, the expectations at UT couldn’t be higher. It’s natural. But it needed to change and that was one of his primary goals from the start.
Last season, the Longhorns showed progress in that department. They did enough in the regular season to reach the NCAA tournament and won the first two games of a regional before succumbing to host Long Beach State.
Progress, Pierce said after the loss to the Dirtbags. But the project wasn’t completed. The Longhorns had to be better, and they were going to be better.
More than a year after sitting in a press conference following his team’s elimination from the postseason at Blair Field in Southern California, Pierce sat in a press conference, this time victorious, and this time as a head coach heading to the CWS for the first time in his career after beating powerful Tennessee Tech 5-2 in the series finale of the Austin Super Regional.
To his left were three players who embodied exactly what this program needed when he took over. Junior righthander Matteo Bocchi, who didn’t even know what the College World Series was until two years ago as a Parma, Italy, native, showed a veteran-like presence in five strong innings against the nation’s best offense. Incredible. There also was Kody Clemens, who hit .625 over the weekend and has hit a home run in the last five games. And there’s Parker Joe Robinson, who has evolved from an afterthought in the program to someone Pierce calls the team’s ‘Pitcher of the Year’.
The pieces were always there, and sure, it’s taken some time. But classes at the University of Texas at Omaha are back in session. The Longhorns are going back.
“It feels awesome, it really does,” an ecstatic Pierce said. “It’s never been about me and it never will be, but the thing I loved is I told these guys back in the fall I want this for you guys, but I also want it for those three coaches who have been with me for seven years.
“To watch all that happen today was really, really special and I’m just so proud of our team. The things that we’ve had to do. I’ve said it before, but we’re not always pretty and a lot of times we’re ugly, but we just figure out how to keep playing and that’s what’s so special about this group.”
After junior righthander Chase Shugart put together a dominant performance in game two to keep the Longhorns alive, Pierce’s club still needed one more strong start. Righthander Blair Henley is Texas’ typical No. 3 starter, but after he came out of the bullpen in Sunday’s game, Pierce opted to keep Henley in the bullpen and start junior righthander Matteo Bocchi.