With an opening-game loss to UC Irvine in the College World Series, the Texas Longhorns must get by No, 3-ranked Louisville (Collegiate Baseball) on Monday or face early elimination in their record 35th CWS appearance.
Texas (43-20) would ordinarily go with left-hander Dillon Peters in its must-win game on Monday against Louisville, but Peters is out for the rest of the season after suffering an elbow injury just before the start of the NCAA regionals. Because of the injury to Peters, the start against Louisville will probably fall to right-hander Parker French, who is 6-5 in 15 starts this season with an ERA of 2.45.
Peters had a 7-3 record before the injury and had not given up a run in his three previous starts.
Heading into its series opener with UC Irvine, Longhorn pitchers boasted an ERA of 1.15, which led to five wins in six games in the NCAA Baseball Championship. Prior to Saturday, Texas had a record of 35-4 in games in which the Longhorns held the lead after six innings. On Saturday, UC Irvine scored three times in the eighth to scudder the Horns’ late-game statistical advantage.
Louisville (50-16) is the only team to make a repeat appearance in the College World Series from 2013, and the Cardinals return with 19 of the players who were on the roster last season. The Cardinals are hoping to avoid a second-straight two-and-out performance in their return trip to Omaha in 2014.
Senior outfielder Jeff Gardner is the big offensive threat in the Louisville lineup, although the Cardinals have several players batting over .300 for the season. Gardner came into the CWS hitting .321, but he is also the team’s leading run producer, with nine home runs and 68 runs batted in on the season. He was the American Conference Player of the Year.
Gardner was hitless in two official plate appearances in Louisville’s loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Outfielder Mark Payton of Texas had his record 101-game on-base streak stopped on Saturday, and the senior team leader would like nothing better than to get it going again in grand style against Louisville. Payton is second on the team in hitting with a .326 average and leads the Longhorns with 38 RBI. Designated-hitter Carter Madison leads the Horns with a .346 batting average.
All season long, Texas has been flexing its muscle and recording wins primarily through the strength of its pitching staff. The Longhorn pitching staff ranks sixth nationally with a collective ERA of 2.32. The Horns also have capitalized on stellar defense. The Texas infield had turned 67 double plays coming into the CWS, which was tied for the fourth-best in the country.
The one thing the Longhorns do not want to do in Monday’s elimination game with Louisville is find themselves behind in the eighth or ninth innings. The Cardinals have one of the best closers in the nation in junior right-handed reliever Nick Burdi. The Louisville closer has an ERA of 0.51 and has 19 saves in 2014, among the top 10 in all of the country.