OMAHA, Neb. It’s officially known as College World Series Bracket 1. It could just as easily be called the Rivals Bracket.
Texas is grouped with its two biggest adversaries, Oklahoma and Texas A&M, and will play one or the other depending on the outcome of its game against Notre Dame on Friday.
“If you want to look to the second game, it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Texas catcher Silas Ardoin said. “That’s why we come to the University of Texas, to play those storied and rival programs, like OU and A&M, whichever one it is. We’ve played in front of great crowds all season, tough ones and ones that are supporting us. We have respect for both of those programs.”
Texas won two of three against Oklahoma in the regular season and lost to the Sooners in the Big 12 championship game. The Longhorns lost a single game to A&M in March.
A subplot is that Texas and Oklahoma will join the Aggies in the Southeastern Conference in the not-too-distant future.
Texas is making its record 38th appearance in the CWS, which is in its 75th year, and the players are cognizant of the history.
“We’re down by five, it’s not just us fighting; it’s the program we’re fighting for,” shortstop Trey Faltine said. “That legacy and dynasty is much bigger than our team and will forever be much bigger than one singular team in a year.”
Of course, all the success has made the Longhorns easy to root against for people not dressed in burnt orange.
“People just get tired of Texas, to be honest with you,” coach David Pierce said. “So we feed off that.”
Longhorns-Aggie passions flared last week and showed up on social media. An A&M graduate who sang the national anthem before a Texas game in the Women’s College World Series ended his performance by flashing the “Horns Down” sign. It caught the NCAA’s attention, and the singer’s invitation to sing the anthem before a CWS game was rescinded.
Pierce said he had heard about the anthem singer and said, to him personally, the “Horns Down” gesture is not an insult.
“I look at it much more as a compliment,” Pierce said, “because they’re thinking about us.”
Returning to Omaha after 20 years is especially sweet for Notre Dame, which lost a three-game super regional at eventual national champion Mississippi State last season.
“When you have to go through that and watch Mississippi State dogpile and just to see them experience that, I think that is kind of something that sticks with you for a long time,” first baseman Carter Putz said. a good enough team to make it to Omaha.”
SEC WEST REUNION
All four SEC teams are from the West Division. Familiarity is supposed to breed contempt. In this case, there’s also some comfort.
“Obviously, we played a lot of these teams before,” Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland said. “It really gets you ready to jump into this kind of tournament where you might face those teams again. I think we’re ready and have a good sneak peek of what we have to do.”
Texas A&M coach Jim Schlossnagle became emotional when asked about his move from TCU after last season. Schossnagle brought five TCU teams to the CWS from 2010-17, and he has sent his children to school there.
“I would have been more than happy and honored to be the coach at TCU the rest of my career,” he said, “but I felt it was a good time for TCU to have a new voice. And I felt for me professionally, I really wanted the opportunity to compete in the SEC.”
PULL A STARTER OUT OF A HAT
Oklahoma coach Skip Johnson had an unusual way of avoiding a question about his pitching plan against Texas A&M.
Johnson said his late father used to keep household bills in a cowboy hat that he would pull out when it was time to pay them.
“That’s what I’ll be doing,” he said. “I’ll put all the names in a cowboy hat and pull it out and find out who is going to pitch tomorrow.”
THE LONG ROAD
Stanford had to win three elimination games in its regional and two more in its super regional to reach the CWS for a second straight year. Brock Jones said that could serve the Cardinal well.
“I think it’s good to experience everything before you get to Omaha because if you get too comfortable you’ll be out of luck,” Jones said. “We’ve touched on pretty much every possible game scenario that we can at this point.”
Auburn had a record losing last year and was picked to finish last in the SEC West this year. The Tigers have made a 17-game improvement, outscored three opponents 51-18 in regionals and won a three-game super regional at Oregon State.
“We’ve had the pressure of battling low expectations,” coach Butch Thompson said. “We’re walking in here thinking we’re not done yet.”
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