OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Ivan Melendez hit a tie-breaking three-run homer in the ninth inning, and Texas forced a second bracket final against Mississippi State with an 8-5 College World Series victory in a game that ended early Saturday after a lengthy rain delay.
McAllen High alum Aaron Nixon earned the win after entering the game with the bases loaded during the eighth inning and pitched 1.2 innings with one strikeout.
The No. 2 national seed Longhorns (50-16) won their third straight elimination game and will go to the best-of-three finals next week if they can beat the Bulldogs (47-17) again Saturday night.
“I believe that our team is playing at a very high level, not only with confidence but with their skill set right now and I don’t think we’re going to give in at all,” Texas coach David Pierce said. “The game gets back to even now and we’re going to go out and compete like we do and see what happens.”
Already in the finals is Vanderbilt. The reigning national champion Commodores automatically advanced when the NCAA announced early Saturday that North Carolina State was out of the tournament because of COVID-19 protocols.
Mississippi State had scored three runs in the eighth to tie it 5-5 before Mike Antico drew a leadoff walk against Brandon Smith starting the ninth. Parker Stinnett came on and walked Zach Zubia before Melendez sent a 3-2 pitch deep into the left-center bleachers.
“Off the bat it felt pretty good,” Melendez said. “I knew it was a homer for sure.”
Following another walk, light rain turned heavy and the grounds crew rolled out the tarp to begin a delay lasting 2 hours, 27 minutes.
“Long night at the ballpark,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. “We don’t throw enough strikes. I think we walked 11 guys tonight. It’s hard to beat anybody when you walk 11 guys.”
Melendez’s homer was his second game-winning hit in less than 24 hours. He had the tie-breaking base hit in the eighth inning in a 6-2 victory over Virginia in a game that ended early Friday.
Melendez had entered the Virginia game 3 for his last 19 at-bats with no RBIs. The All-Big 12 designated hitter is 4 for 10 with a double, homer and five RBIs since.
Texas reliever Tanner Witt, who pitched 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief against Tennessee on Tuesday, encountered control problems after a smooth seventh against the Bulldogs.
He walked three straight to bring in one run, and after Nixon entered with the bases loaded, Brad Cumbest’s hard liner off second baseman Mitchell Daly’s glove drove in two more.
Ty Madden was sharp for a second straight start for Texas. He struck out 10 in seven innings in a 2-1 loss to MSU on Sunday. In that game, Bulldogs ace Will Bednar struck out 15 and Texas fanned a CWS-record 21 times.
This time Madden held the Bulldogs to one hit and no runs over his last five innings after MSU took a quick 2-0 lead.
The Longhorns took their first lead in the fifth on Mike Antico’s single, and they added two more runs in the seventh after MSU center fielder Rowdey Jordan lost track of Trey Faltine’s high fly to start the inning. Faldine ended up on second with a double and scored on Antico’s single, and Melendez’s base hit made it a three-run game.