By Jake McKeever
Texas and Stanford square off in a Super Regional rich in tradition. They are the only two teams remaining who reached the Men's College World Series last year, and both are looking to return to Omaha a third straight year. Both storied programs took different paths to get here. Let’s start with the visiting Texas Longhorns.
While Texas has been a mainstay in Omaha throughout the history of the event, this 2023 campaign felt very different. Yes, Lucas Gordon would be back, but Texas was losing nearly their entire infield and a good chunk of their outfield. Dylan Campbell and Mitchell Daly both platooned for Texas last season and had meaningful at-bats, but they were not tasked to carry a load in 2022. Campbell has been the man to watch throughout the run Texas has been on. His 35-game hitting streak is the longest in both school and Big 12 history. A good chunk of those were multi-hit games as well.
A key to the Longhorns' success has been the corner infield positions, who are breaking out in unlikely ways. Peyton Powell was projected to compete for the starting job behind the plate, and possibly as a corner outfielder. Instead, due to an injury, he was able to crack the lineup and stay there. He brings a veteran approach at the plate that is rare for someone who realistically hasn't had meaningful at-bats in four years. His .341 average is not under the radar.
On the other side of the infield, there’s Jared Thomas, a true freshman. Replacing Ivan Melandez at first base is a tall task on its own, then add in Gavin Kash's transfer to rival Texas Tech, and the expectations were sky high for Snake. Credit to David Pierce for sticking with Thomas, even after his average fell to .213 following an 0-2 day against Kansas State earlier this year. When Texas has needed a big hit down the stretch, Thomas has delivered. He had four hits in the Regional last weekend to raise his average to .333 on the season. Both Powell and Thomas are big reasons why the Horns are in this Super Regional.
For Stanford, it was merely business as usual. They flew under the radar this year, despite being a Top 8 seed. They were the only West Coast national seed, and one of two teams west of Texas still playing. The Cardinal did things the hard way in their Regional, dropping the “1-0” game against Texas A&M before rallying to beat the Aggies twice, just as they did against Texas State in 2022.
Tommy Troy at the top of the order is the table setter in a lineup that will need to be on their game against a talented Texas pitching staff. The big name in the middle of the Stanford lineup is Braden Montgomery. The Madison, MS, native carries a .329 average and will also provide depth in the bullpen as a two-way player.
Starting pitchers Joey Dixon and Quinn Mathews will need to work long outings and limit the use of the bullpen for Stanford to be successful. Mathews pitched twice against the Aggies in the Regional, with a ton of high stress pitches thrown on Monday. Ryan Bruno is the Cardinal’s stud closer and will likely finish off games for Stanford.
Lucas Gordon, Texas
Joey Dixon, Stanford
Lebarron Johnson Jr.,Texas
Quinn Mathews, Stanford
Keys to the Series
For Texas- continue with your plan at the plate. The ‘Horns have been hot, getting contributions from unexpected sources, but do not put the whole game on Porter Brown and Dylan Campbell. If Garret Guillemette and Mitchell Daly continue their hot streak, Texas is a hard team to beat.
For Stanford- play your game. Texas has a quick-strike lineup, but they would much rather beat you 3-2 or 4-1. Gordon will be the best pitcher Stanford has seen all year and for me, he is the best pitcher outside the SEC. He is a West Coast guy with a ton of attitude who wants the ball in his hand. Johnson Jr has a big league arm and will be the Friday night ace for the ‘Horns next year. Outside of 60 pitches of Tanner Witt, and maybe Zane Morehouse, Texas drops off significantly after their first two starting pitchers. Stanford is a power team and will be hard to beat if the Sunken Diamond plays small.