Eric Kennedy is not known for his power. Then again, the flair for theatrics is too contagious to pass up in Omaha, Neb. at the College World Series, right?
A little over a week following his walk-off double against South Florida in the Austin Super Regionals, Kennedy ignited the Longhorns' offensive spark as the No.2 Longhorns (48-16) defeated No. 3 Tennessee, 8-4.
"Eric has earned the right to be a starter. And he earned the right to fail and struggle," Texas coach David Pierce said. "And so now his confidence is back. And we are definitely happy that he's seeing the ball well and helping this team win."
The Vols' (50-18) claimed a 2-0 early in the second inning with back-to-back hits off of Tristan Stevens, placing Texas in another deficit early. On Sunday against Mississippi State, Ty Madden's fourth inning struggles led to a 2-1 defeat.
Kennedy's newfound stardom bloomed once more. With a pair of runners and a two-strike count, the left fielder cranked one over the right field fence to watch it bang against the concerte, Texas the 3-2 lead for his fourth home run of the season.
"He threw me all fastballs," Kennedy said. "I don't know how many pitches it was prior to the home run, six or seven fastballs. So I had my timing down. The pitch before I fouled that off. Luckily he left one right over the middle plate and I was ready for it, having seen several fastballs throughout the at-bat."
Momentum had changed in the blink of an eye. Despite a fourth inning response from the volatile Vol's offense to tie the game 4-4, the Longhorns kept fighting, this time relying on Tanner Witt.
The "real" UT kept delivering the punches, sending the other orange school back to the dugout with no avail.
A fourth inning swing from catch Silas Ardoin plated two Longhorns to make it 6-4. Back-to-back singles from Mike Antico and Cam Williams allowed Ardoin to score and cushion the lead.
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Yet, it was the bat of Kennedy paired with precise decision-making that sealed the victory for Texas in the end.
"I just thought we did a great job of competing all day, from top to bottom," Pierce said. "We had so many stars, so many guys that stepped up today. That's what we needed."
Kennedy singled in the sixth before swiping third base with Antico at the plate. That stolen base made him the first Texas player with a home run and stolen base in a CWS game since Brooks Kieschnick in 1992.
A wild pitch from Redmond Walsh allowed Kennedy to jog into home, adding insurance and taking the life out of Tennessee's comeback. Texas will now prepare to face the loser of Thursday's game between Mississippi State and Virginia.
And the clutch production of Kennedy? That will be needed if Texas wants to end its dream season with a title returning to Austin.
"We're here for a reason," Kennedy said. "But just stay loose and if we play our game not many people are going to be able to beat us."
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