OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Freshman nerves? Apparently there’s no such thing to Texas relief pitcher Tanner Witt.
With the Longhorns in an elimination game at the College World Series and Tennessee on the verge of a big inning in a one-run game, Witt got the call with two runners on base and one out.
The moment was not too big for Witt. He embraced it.
“I love that big stage, big atmosphere,” he said. “I feel I only get better in those situations because that’s what I live for.”
Witt threw 5 2/3 innings in his longest outing as a collegian, and the No. 2 national seed Longhorns eliminated Tennessee with an 8-4 victory Tuesday.
Silas Ardoin provided the key hit — a tie-breaking, two-run single — and was part of a crucial double play that helped the Longhorns (48-16) pick up their first win in Omaha since 2014. No. 3 Tennessee (50-18), which lost its opener to Virginia 6-0, went two-and-out in its first appearance since 2005.
“Sometimes baseball is a crazy game,” the Vols’ Pete Derkay said. “First day we kind of just didn’t show up like we were capable of doing. Today, they were the better team.”
Witt (5-0) allowed only three singles, walked none and struck out two. He pitched three 1-2-3 innings and no Tennessee runners made it past first base after the fourth inning.
“Future of Texas pitching is in good hands,” left fielder Eric Kennedy said. “As a freshman he’s the most poised pitcher I’ve ever seen. Nothing fazes him. He’s been nails all season, and that just continued on the biggest stage.
“I know a lot of guys, if that was their first appearance, they would be walking a bunch of guys or not have their stuff. But he was able to do what he’s been doing all year.”
Witt threw 78 pitches — 25 ore than his previous high — and never had a doubt he would go out to pitch the ninth.
“I felt my best stuff was later in my outing and that’s big,” he said. “It’s elimination games. You’ve got to do whatever you can for your team to win. That’s all I was trying to do. I wasn’t focused on how long I was going or how short I was going.”
Peyton Manning — the Tennessee sports star whose “Omaha!” yell at the line of scrimmage remains his calling card five years after he retired from football — watched from the stands in his orange polo and white ballcap.
The Volunteers gave him something to cheer when Jordan Beck’s two-run single put them ahead in the second inning. The lead was short-lived. Kennedy’s three-run homer off the back wall of the right-field bullpen put Texas up 3-2 in the bottom half.
Tennessee threatened in the top of the third with the bases loaded and no outs. Drew Gilbert grounded to third, and Ardoin was able to pick up Cam Williams’ low throw for the force at home, and then he fired to first for the double play. Texas starter Tristan Stevens got a flyout to end the inning.
“Silas never panicked,” Longhorns coach David Pierce said. “I told him just now it’s one of the best plays I’ve ever seen — ever — because of the situation. If that ball gets past him, they score two and have a runner at second and third with nobody out. It could have unraveled on us.”
Ardoin’s single into right center broke a 4-4 tie in Texas’ three-run fourth, and the Longhorns were up 8-4 when Kennedy scored on a wild pitch in the sixth.
Both teams argued balls and strikes from their dugouts, and Tennessee volunteer assistant Ross Kivett was ejected when reliever Sean Hunley (7-5) walked Douglas Hodo III on four pitches in the bottom of the fourth.
Kivett pounded his fist on the rail of the first-base dugout, causing the papers in his binder to go flying, and third-base umpire Mike Morris jogged in to throw out Kivett.
“We brought in a guy to hit the mitt, and I think Ross felt like he was hitting the mitt,” Vols coach Tony Vitello said. “If anything, standing up for his guy and also ensuring that we at least brought some passion to the field today.
“So whether it went awry or we misbehaved or whatever it may be, no one’s getting on the bus going back to the hotel saying we didn’t show up or we weren’t into it or we didn’t have any fight to us.”
Texas: Plays on Thursday against the loser of Tuesday night’s Mississippi State-Virginia game.
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