OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Taylor Sparks hit his nation-leading ninth triple of the season to fuel UC Irvine’s three-run eighth inning Saturday in the Anteaters’ 3-1 victory over Texas in the opening game of the College World Series.
The Anteaters had been shut out for seven innings before they broke through against Texas starter Nathan Thornhill (8-3) and reliever John Curtiss.
One of the last four teams selected for the NCAA tournament, UC Irvine (41-23) continued to amaze during a postseason run in which it knocked off No. 1 national seed Oregon State and swept a super regional at Oklahoma State.
The Anteaters advanced to a winner’s game Monday against Vanderbilt or Louisville. The Longhorns (43-20) play the Vanderbilt-Louisville loser.
Evan Brock (9-6) earned the win, pitching 2 1-3 innings of no-hit relief and striking out the side in the ninth.
Texas scored its only run in the second inning on a squeeze play, and Thornhill hummed along in the middle innings after working out of early trouble.
The Anteaters stranded runners in scoring position each of the first four innings, leaving a man at third three times, and then had only one man reach base until the eighth.
Thornhill, a 13th-round draft pick of the Phillies, allowed only three runs over 37 innings in six starts before Sparks’ drove a ball into a 35-mph wind that landed on the fringe of the warning track in left center. It was his third hit of the game.
Curtiss came on, and Chris Rabago drilled his first pitch up the middle to score Sparks. Jonathan Munoz added an RBI single for a two-run lead.
UC Irvine starter Andrew Morales, a second-round pick of the Cardinals, allowed six hits over six innings, giving up Texas’ only run in the second. Collin Shaw doubled leading off the inning and later scored on Zane Gurwitz’s bunt single.
The Longhorns had ample opportunity to pad their early lead, but they stranded 10 runners through five innings, eight of them in scoring position.
Texas is making its record 35th CWS appearance, with 75-year-old coach Augie Garrido trying to win a national title in a fifth decade. He won championships with Cal State Fullerton in 1979, 1984 and 1995 and with Texas in 2002 and 2005.
UC Irvine barely made the tournament after losing eight of nine to end the regular season. But the Anteaters, in the CWS for the second time, are not now and in position to make a run at giving 74-year-old Mike Gillespie his second national title. He won his first in 1998 at Southern California.