Texas coach David Pierce told reporters Sunday evening that it was catcher Silas Ardoin's inning-ending play that gave the team momentum. Ty Madden pitched a beauty, but a fourth inning fault led to an eventual 2-1 loss against No. 7 Mississippi State.
Madden's night ended on at least somewhat of a positive note with a strikeout. However, it was Ardoin's arm that delivered the strike to Texas' Trey Faltine to get MSU's Scottie Dubrule from swiping second.
"Si made two big-time throws, actually three," Pierce said via Zoom. "It just gives you a fresh breath and it allows Ty to get back to the dugout and catch his breath without using extra pitches."
Once again, Ardoin's arm played a pivotal role in the Longhorns' (48-16) 8-4 victory over No. 3 Tennessee in the College World Series. The difference this time around? Add in his bat to keep Texas in the running for a national title.
"He's been tremendous. I mean, behind the plate, the things he does that are so good that are unnoticed," Pierce said. "And then when he steps up on a big play like today and threw a couple of guys out the other day against Mississippi State. He's kind of a rock for us back there."
Bases were loaded for the Volunteers (50-17) entering the third inning when center fielder Drew Gilbert came to the plate. A shot towards third base allowed Cam Williams to go home and get the lead runner out, thus saving a run.
With the speed of Gilbert, Ardoin needed a perfect handoff from glove to throw. It was textbook as the catcher fired down the first baseline to Zach Zubia, getting the double play and keeping the Longhorns ahead, 4-3.
"I told him just now it's one of the best plays I've ever seen -- ever -- because of the situation," Pierce said. "If that ball gets past him, they score two, with two guys -- they score two and have a runner at second and third with nobody out. It could have unraveled on us.
Tennessee elected to call upon closer Sean Hundley for the fourth. Entering Tuesday, the senior had an ERA of 3.01. Ardoin raised it while also boosting his clutch status in the process.
A two-out single to right-center field plated a pair of Longhorns, with Douglas Hodo III just beating the tag at home from Connor Pavolony. Texas would take a 6-4 lead and never look back. Williams would single two batters later and Ardoin would come around to score.
"He's been grinding all year," left fielder Eric Kennedy said. "He's a great catcher, the best in the country. It was awesome to see him come through with that big hit. He's been working as hard as anybody, and it was awesome to see him come through."
Swing and misses were a critical factor in Texas' loss. Will Bednar was electric for the Bulldogs, striking out 15 batters through six innings of work. Going up against one of the game's best closers in Landon Sims didn't help.
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In total, Texas batters struck out 21 times — Ardoin picked up the hat trick as one of the four with multiple strikeouts.
The other UT never found consistency in pitching. Blade Tidwell only lasted three innings despite allowing just two hits. His walk total was double, and each runner would score after taking a free base.
Hunley only lasted 2/3 of an inning before Tennessee's Tony Vitello went back to the pen with Redmond Walsh. Ardoin found a way to crack into the brain of the SEC stud closer, thus creating a mid-game rally.
Behind the plate, Ardoin helped Tanner Witt (5-0) pick up where Tristan Stevens left off. The freshman delivered one strike after another, allowing just three hits and sending a pair of Volunteers back to the dugout with a K on their line.
"He's just got a knack to soothe the pitching staff," Pierce said. "He's very good with them. They're best friends. He has a sense of humor when he's off the field. Very respectful. And this kid just comes to play every single day."
Ardoin finished 1-for-4 on the afternoon, but the single gave the Longhorns steam. It ignited a spark offensively that was missing against the Bulldogs.
Thanks to it, Texas now waits for the loser of Mississippi State-Virginia with momentum on its side. The offense can win games but it's the defense that sets the tone in a must-win showdown.
Ardoin did both when called upon, and Texas now fights for another day.
"I'll go to war any day with that guy," Whitt said of Ardoin. "I love that guy. He's been huge for us behind the plate, made a huge play today. It could have been the difference in the game right there."
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