- Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. She previously wrote for The Kansas City Star and The Omaha World-Herald.
OMAHA, Neb. — Another yellow-and-orange blob on the radar was approaching, and a man seated a few rows behind the Texas dugout drank a beer out of his sneaker and flashed the Hook ‘Em sign.
Longhorns After Dark was just getting started.
Riding on shortened sleep and high adrenaline, Texas staved off elimination once again, beating Mississippi State 8-5 in a College World Series game that bled into Saturday morning. It was the second straight night that the Longhorns were on the field well after midnight. Saturday morning’s game wrapped up after 2 a.m. ET. About 24 hours earlier, after a three-hour and 38-minute rain delay, Texas finished off Vanderbilt just before 2 a.m.
The Longhorns have won three elimination games since dropping their CWS opener last week against the Bulldogs, and Saturday night the two teams will meet again for a spot in the CWS championship round. Texas coach David Pierce, conducting a late-night postgame press conference via Zoom, was talking to reporters about how he was worried about getting his team’s minds back into finishing the game during the rain delay, but then Pierce fell victim to his own fatigue.
“Sorry,” he said, “I kind of got on a tangent. What was the actual question?”
It was a long day for Texas, which arrived at the team hotel at 2:30 a.m. on Friday, had breakfast at 11, then had a meeting at the field at 4. The Longhorns’ game was supposed to start at 7, but was pushed back an hour because of the COVID-19-related delay in the earlier North Carolina State-Vanderbilt game.
For a while, it appeared as if Texas would get an earlier bedtime Friday. In the top of the ninth inning, sophomore designated hitter Ivan Melendez crushed a three-run homer to break a 5-5 tie, stomping on home plate in glee. A few minutes later, at 11:39 p.m., lightning flashed in the distance and the game was halted.
“It’s definitely exhausting,” Melendez said. “I definitely feel it every time I wake up in the morning, we’ve got to walk down for breakfast. But I just think the crowd and just the energy and all the emotions just have us all amped up. I think that’s what keeps us going, honestly, in my opinion.”
Mississippi State is by far the fresher team, having two days off between its Tuesday night win over Virginia to Friday’s game. The Bulldogs also rested Will Bednar and Landon Sims — their top arms — on Friday, and Pierce expects to see both of them Saturday night.
But when the Longhorns play after dark, anything can happen.
“I believe that our team is playing at a very high level, not only with confidence, but with their skill set right now,” he said. “And I don’t think we’re going to give in at all. I think the game gets back to even now. And we’re going to go out there and compete like we do and see what happens.”
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