Nation's deepest staff propels Horns
1. Texas (53-13) -- at-large berth (won Big 12 regular season)
2. Oral Roberts (50-11) -- automatic berth, won Mid-Continent regular season and tournament
3. Texas Christian (39-26) -- automatic berth, won Conference USA tournament
4. Youngstown State (22-32) -- automatic berth, won Horizon tournament
Saturday, June 5
Game 3 -- TCU 12, Youngstown State 8 (Youngstown State eliminated)
Game 4 -- Texas 7, Oral Roberts 5
Game 5 -- Oral Roberts 10, TCU 1 (TCU eliminated)
Saturday's Austin roundup
Sunday, June 6
Game 6 -- Texas 7, Oral Roberts 3 (Oral Roberts eliminated)
Texas (53-13) advances to Super Regionals.
Texas junior righthander Huston Street set a College World Series record with four saves in the Longhorns' 2002 title run. He also holds the Texas, Big 12, CWS and Team USA career saves marks. There's no better big-game player in the country, and Street further made his case last summer by holding Mexico scoreless for 8 2/3 innings in relief. He went 5-1, 1.60 and led the Big 12 with 10 saves this year despite missing a month with a groin injury. The injury limited him to a career-low 45 innings, meaning he could be even fresher in the postseason.
Texas leads everyone with 30 College World Series appearances and has made the trip the last two years. There's no reason to think it won't make it three in a row. The Longhorns have the nation's deepest pitching staff with five very capable starters, led by junior lefthander J.P. Howell (13-2, 2.01), and ranked second in the nation with a 2.65 ERA. The top three relievers -- Street, righthander J. Brent Cox and lefty Buck Cody -- all boast ERAs lower than 2.00. The offense only features three .300 hitters, but there's tremendous depth -- which offers the flexibility to manufacture runs by playing matchups -- and the Longhorns always seem to get timely hitting.
On The Other Hand
Don't just dismiss Oral Roberts because it plays in the Mid-Con, where it has won 43 of its last 44 games and the league title for seven straight years. The Golden Eagles went 7-6 against 2004 regional teams with wins against Arkansas, UC Irvine, Oklahoma, Pepperdine, Wichita State and two at Arizona State. The pitching staff compiled a 2.96 ERA, which ranked third in the country. Two-way junior Dennis Bigley won the conference's player and pitcher of the year award by going 12-1, 2.90 on the mound and hitting .301-7-29. First-year coach Rob Walton, the Mid-Con coach of the year, plays an offensive style that resembles the one he played in under Gary Ward at Oklahoma State. His team works counts, taking a lot of pitches and waiting for mistakes. It resulted in a .475 team on-base percentage.
Snubbed on selection day the last two years, TCU made sure that wouldn't happen again by rallying to win its league tournament despite losing its first game. In the process, TCU tied a school record for wins and earned its first tournament berth since 1994. The Horned Frogs' best series win of the year came at Texas Tech in late February, but the team is hot with eight wins in nine games. Its bats are hot, too, especially freshmen Austin Adams and Chad Huffman. Adams, an outfielder who hit .343-7-47 for the year, had 13 RBI and a record four home runs in the C-USA tournament, while second baseman Huffman hit .455 after a .395-9-41 season. Senior righthander Clayton Jerome was the league's pitcher of the year in 2003 and has won at least nine games the last three years, including the C-USA title game last Sunday.
Hey, Don't Forget Us
Among tournament teams, only Texas Southern won fewer games than Youngstown State, which makes its first tournament appearance. The Penguins won their conference tournament despite a last-place finish during a regular season and a 2-13 start to the year. Youngstown did beat league champ Illinois-Chicago three times in a four-game series to finish conference play and topped the Flames again in the tournament. But an offense that hit 26 homers and slugged .366 in 52 games won't scare too many teams.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.