David Pierce didn't want to say goodbye. Why would he after all his team has been through?
Texas' baseball season began in Arlington with an 8-3 loss to Mississippi State. Their season ended with a 4-3 loss to the same Bulldogs on Saturday night in Omaha, Neb.
Pierce has won a national title before back in 2003 with Rice. He's been the College World Series six times, including once as Texas' (50-17) manager in 2018.
But this time — with this team — it's different. This team will hold a special place in his heart.
"When you talk about culture and you talk about standard, and you talk about all those buzzwords and then you go out and watch it happen and just get inspired by young people; young people are constantly being talked about of how they weren't like us back in the day," Pierce said. "This group is incredible."
Texas's time at the College World Series is over. Consider it one hell of a ride and a goodbye that will be talked about for ages to come at TD Ameritrade Park.
Heck, look that the last 72 hours of Longhorn baseball alone and consider that a blessing.
Six total hours of rain delays? Four straight elimination games? Starters on just three days rest? A COVID-19 forfeit?
Third place after all that? It's a start for what's to come.
Fans around the league will only remember a 4-3 loss to the Bulldogs (48-17) that now has Mississippi State taking on Vanderbilt. For those around the Forty Acres, there's so much more.
Texas picked up its 25th season of 50-plus wins. They won a regular season Big 12 title. A 37th appearance in Omaha? Check that box too.
"It's a special group of guys, and we worked as hard as we possibly can," center fielder Mike Antico said. "We didn't leave any stone unturned on our way here. I mean, no regrets at all."
Cole Quintanilla made one mistake coming out of the bullpen in what was a flawless night on the mound. The Longhorns as a whole? They had multiple chances to win behind his unforgettable performance.
Douglas Hodo III popped a bunt that should have moved the runner. Silas Ardoin struck out looking with Cam Williams standing on second. Dylan Campbell stood at third base with two outs in the ninth inning.
Hodo drove a ball to the right field fence, but like most of the balls, it stayed in play.
Quintanilla will get the loss, but he kept the Longhorns ahead. With the game tied at 3-all and bases loaded, he forced a grounder to get the runner out at home. He'd strikeout the next two Bulldogs and then go another 3.1 innings of dominant baseball.
A hit by pitch on Kellum Clark gave Mississippi State a runner. Three pitches later, Tanner Leggett walked it off.
But man was Quintanilla great.
"I think you just watched another young person just grow up right there on the mound," Pierce said. "I mean, we've all seen his stuff. We've all seen some tremendous outings, but you just watched him grow up to basically feel like he can do pretty much anything on that mound if he just puts his mind to it."
Pitching and defense kept the Horns alive all season. In elimination games, they were the x-factor.
How many times can you Mitchell Daly and Trey Faltine toss flip the ball to each other for a miraculous, but looks routine double play?
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Go ahead, keep watching. Their three Saturday gave Texas 57 total on the year, second most in the nation.
"We played impeccable defense the entire series, and big-time pitches in big-time moments, and the defense played their tails off," Pierce said.
Yeah, Texas is going home a game shy of the title. It's hard to win when you strikeout 32 times against Will Bednar and Landon Sims in both losses.
The offense needed to be more consistent, but they found heros along the way.
Eric Kennedy's three-run home run against Tennessee was one. Zach Zubia's three-run double over Virginia was another. Ivan Melendez's game-winning dinger against the Bulldogs and Williams' two-run homer in the second ring a bell?
Texas lost, but they were a contender to win it all from the start of tournament.
Best of all? They're still a contender for next season.
"I give those younger guys the hope that they still have an opportunity to come back here and keep your head up high and just keep moving forward," Antico said.
The core returns for next spring all around. Kennedy and Hodo will remain in the corner outfield. Melendez will keep his bat and get a chance at first base. As for that 1-2 combination up the middle? Yeah, Daly and Faltine will be back as well.
Ardoin, who Pierce dubbed the "pitcher soother" is back behind the plate too.
The Longhorns will likely lose ace Ty Madden, who is a projected top 10 pick in next month's MLB Draft. Tristan Stevens, a fifth-year starter, likely will head that way too.
Quintanilla and Pete Hansen — both of whom are draft eligible — will have to decide if they will return. If they should head back, there's the next Madden-Stevens duo.
If one leaves, Tanner Witt made his case against Tennessee with 5.1 innings of work to be the next ace. Same Lucas Gordon all season. Aaron Nixon could be Sims 2.0 and the next great college closer.
Yeah, Texas has options.
“The future’s bright,” Pierce said. “We’ve got a great recruiting class coming in. We’ve got two big freshmen in Witt and Nixon. Look at Gordon. He’s right there close to being the next weekend guy."
As the saying goes 'one door closes, another one opens', right? That door, with a few more bats, is scary in Austin.
College baseball, look out. Texas is back — and they're not leaving anytime soon.
"I'm excited for what the future holds for this team with the younger guys," Quintanilla said. "Going to be really good, and I think we're about to show college baseball that Texas is back and we're here to stay."
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