Team effort has Texas back in Omaha

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas is perceived by many to have the most historic college baseball program. Southern California, which has recorded 12 national titles, is the only program with even a chance to claim that label.

So, when the Longhorns won the 2005 national title, there certainly was an expectation that we’d probably see them back in Omaha in ’06 and ’07, and perhaps even ’08.

That didn’t happen. The Longhorns were unable to get out of regional play the last three seasons, prompting some observers to wonder if the program might’ve lost some of its luster and ability to prevail in tough situations.

Regardless, the Longhorns were predicted to finish this season at the College World Series with a shot of winning that national title. That was nothing new for a school that has amassed six national titles in its illustrious history.

What was new was the thought of a senior class at UT going four seasons without playing at Rosenblatt Stadium. At least in the Augie Garrido era, that’s pretty uncommon.

Several weeks before the season started, Texas senior pitcher Austin Wood said he wasn’t going to go his entire career without reaching Omaha. After all, playing for a national title was the main reason he went to Texas.

A few weeks later during a postgame chat with Garrido, the legendary coach said he thought this year’s Texas team had the right attitude to not only get to Omaha but also to win the national title.

On Monday, when the Longhorns defeated TCU 5-2 to notch their 33rd CWS appearance, it’s clear those words earlier in the year meant something. After three years of agony in the postseason, this team wasn’t going to be denied.

“Coach gave us a pregame speech and I knew we were going to win. It was the most inspirational speech I’ve ever heard,” Wood said. “He just revealed to us how much he wanted to get to Omaha and how much we wanted to get there as well.”

Wood, of course, has been the source of many headlines in the postseason. Considering his quote earlier in the season, it’s quite fitting that he rose to the occasion at the most opportune time and has become somewhat of a rock star around Austin, prompting some to call him baseball’s “Vince Young.”

Wood willed himself to 169 pitches in 13 innings in the longest game in college baseball history last weekend against Boston College.

He wasn’t the only senior that rose to the occasion. Just hours later, senior catcher Preston Clark provided a walkoff grand slam against Army that sent UFCU Disch-Falk Field into a frenzy and the Longhorns to the super regional round.

The freshman class also is a big reason why the ‘Horns are going back to Omaha.

After splitting the first two games against TCU, the Longhorns sent freshman right-handed pitcher Taylor Jungmann to the mound with everything on the line Monday despite coming off a shaky outing against Army (allowed six runs in 3 1/3 innings).

It wasn’t a surprise the Longhorns started Jungmann in the series finale against the Horned Frogs. After all, the freshman has been a solid starter for the Longhorns much of the season. But there was some extra tension in the air because of his less than stellar start against Army.

But as had been the case the past few weeks, Jungmann joined the seniors in the clutch department. He put together a performance that mystified TCU’s hitters and propelled the Longhorns to Omaha. He struck out five batters and allowed just two hits in six shutout innings.

That’s how this season has gone for the Longhorns: When it’s not the senior class getting it done, it’s a freshman like Jungmann rising to the occasion.

Together they are all headed to the College World Series, ready to add to Texas’ legacy.

“You have to know you’re a champion before you can be a champion, and this team perceives itself as a champion,” Garrido said. “This team has done different things on different days to get wins. Now the season we’re always waiting for begins.”

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Tuesday, Jun 9, 2009