UT's Jungmann turns it around
Taylor Jungmann's best performance of the year lifted Texas past LSU
His work was a marked improvement over Monday's tough relief outing
The teams will square off tonight in a decisive Game 3 of the CWS finals
OMAHA, Neb. -- Having just thrown his 126th pitch of the night, a 2-2 curveball to strike out LSU's Leon Landry for the 5-1 (RECAP) win and tie the College World Series final, Texas starter Taylor Jungmann excitedly pumped his fist before leaving the dirt of the Rosenblatt Stadium mound.
Contrast that with his exit from Jungmann's ill-fated relief appearance in the ninth inning of Monday's Game 1 in which he threw six pitches -- all balls -- and after he was removed, mid-batter, the 6-foot-6 freshman steadily paced off the mound with nary an emotion, extraneous twitch or desire to hustle.
In Game 2, however, Jungmann dominated from the start, striking out nine and allowing only five hits, two walks and one unearned to force a deciding Game 3 Wednesday night.
"Saved it for the end," he said.
Jungmann was talking about throwing his first college complete game, but it's true about his best contributions to the Longhorns, too. The power pitcher from Georgetown, Texas, told pro scouts he wasn't interested in being drafted out of high school, where he was the Gatorade state player of the year as a senior (14-0 with a 0.77 ERA), meaning he fell to the Angels in the 24th round. He didn't make his first Big 12 start until May 3 against Baylor, but is now, at 11-3, the staff's winningest pitcher to go with a 2.00 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 94 2/3 innings.
When spring semester workouts started up after the holiday break, his teammates noticed that Jungmann had implemented what he learned in fall practice.
"He learned he couldn't just throw the ball as hard as he wanted to," said third baseman Michael Torres, who played sharp defense behind his pitcher and had seven assists. "He learned to keep the ball down and that location is better against college hitters."
But even the normally unflappable Jungmann -- in describing his emotions before that first conference start, he only admitted, "I've started a game before" -- took his Game 1 clunker hard.
"[Monday] night was a little embarrassing for me," he said. "I thought about it a lot."
He had even more time to think on Tuesday thanks to a thunderstorm passing through, with intermittent downpours and a lightning show delaying the start an hour and 34 minutes. But it might have been a blessing for Jungmann, considering the conditions of the afternoon, so bad that the National Weather Service had issued an excessive heat warning, as the mid-afternoon temperature reached 98 and an infernal heat index of 116.
The rain, however, managed to cool Omaha down to a more manageable first-pitch temperature of 82 and leave the fan with a parting gift of a pair of dim but full parallel rainbows arcing over the Desert Dome in right field. And it made the evening a whole lot less taxing on Jungmann.
He was a completely different pitcher in Game 2, having had the benefit of his normal routine before a start. And after the game, his catcher, Cameron Rupp, was effusive with praise, unable to pick what Jungmann did so well, before settling on "everything, just everything about it." Even though he had thrown 106 pitches through eight innings, Rupp said there was no decision to be made in the dugout.
"He was going all the way," Rupp said.
Jungmann took the wind out of LSU's sails. The Tigers, after all, had won 14 straight games, dating back to its title run through the losers' bracket of the SEC tournament. Omaha has become a secondary home for LSU, thanks to its five national titles from 1991 to 2000 and an ardent fan base that travels well to the College World Series, so much so that many local residents have adopted the Tigers. Easily 60 percent of the 21,871 fans at Rosenblatt were cheering for LSU. Before the game and before the rain, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and the school's basketball coach Trent Johnson walked out to left field and led an impromptu rally with the large contingent of Tigers fans in that section. The chants of LSU and Mainieri's name suggested that the party had already started in the minds of Tiger fans and that Game 2 would merely be a coronation.
But Texas provided Jungmann with some early run support, initially on Brandon Belt's RBI single in the first inning and then on home runs from Preston Clark and Russell Moldenahuer.
"The best thing for a pitcher's curveball is a four-run lead," UT coach Augie Garrido said of the 5-1 advantage Texas grabbed in the third, before the game went scoreless over the final six frames.
Earl Weaver believed in the three-run homer. Texas? It's fine with the solo shot.
And when you hit as many as the Longhorns have in the final series -- seven in two games -- that's a fine strategy. Small ball, or Augie Ball as it's known in Austin, is about playing for one run at a time. Well, a solo home run is just that, even if it's not the most common rendition thereof.
There's been no better practitioner than Moldenhauer, who's been an even later bloomer than Jungmann. Moldenhauer, an early third-round pick (also of the Angels) out of high school, turned down a sizable offer to play at Texas. He produced a pair of All-Big 12 honorable mention seasons before dislocating his left kneecap on a swing in last year's NCAA regionals, when his spike caught in the ground as he pivoted on a swing. After surgery and long rehab, the junior barely played at the start of the season, entering the College World Series with a .234 average in just 64 at bats, with no home runs.
Playing a hunch, Garrido inserted him in the cleanup spot for an early game in Omaha, and Moldenhauer delivered a home run. Since then, he's been Texas' best option in the No. 4 hole and has tied a CWS record with four homers -- yep, all solo.
Moldenhauer admits that he has tinkered with his stance a number of times this season, before finally settling on one that makes him comfortable. He's added a small leg kick to start his swing, which he says keeps his weight back longer.
"I'm just seeing the ball well," Moldenhauer said.
Mainieri decided to save his staff's co-ace, Anthony Ranaudo (11-3, 2.87 ERA), for a possible Game 3 rather than throw him on three days' rest. Instead he opted for Austin Ross, who Mainieri pulled after just two innings because "he didn't have his best stuff." That mean three LSU relievers had to combine for seven innings, while the gem by UT's Jungmann gave most of the bullpen a night off.
Good thing, too, as the Texas relievers might have exhausted themselves before the game playing with their new toy, an inflatable whale they have taken to calling Carlos. During the pre-game rain delay, the Longhorns frequently tossed the whale over the dugout rail, subjecting it to the pouring rain. Perhaps it was an attempt to return Carlos to his natural habitat, or at least if it, you know, swam down the first-base line and across the street to the zoo.
But in a winner-take-all Game 3, everyone will be ready, in this dream CWS final. Facing Ranaudo will be UT's 6-foot sophomore Cole Green, who has a 5-3 record and 3.07 ERA in a team-high 19 starts.
"One game and I have the ball?" Green said after the game, adding a shoulder shrug and a sly smile. "That about sums it up."
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