OMAHA, Neb. – Jackson Kowar’s first inning didn’t portend the stellar afternoon he was about to have Tuesday. He didn’t give up a run in the first, but he threw 25 pitches.
“Just reminded him he’s going to have to be a little more economical,” Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.
No worries, coach.
Kowar struck out a career-high 13 in 6 2/3 shutout innings, mixing his changeup with a fastball still touching the mid-90s deep into his season-high 121-pitch performance that flummoxed Texas in a 6-1 win that eliminated the Longhorns from the College World Series.
“It’s probably the best I’ve seen him, to be honest with you, with the whole package, with everything concerned,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought he was really good last week with Auburn, too. He was really good against (Texas) A&M during SEC play. But on this stage, I think this is about as good as he’s pitched all year.”
The Kansas City Royals’ first-round draft pick struck out the side in the third and sixth innings and broke his previous high of 11 Ks he set against TCU in the CWS last year. He became the first pitcher in the CWS since UCLA teammates Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer in 2010 to record 13 strikeouts.
“Those guys are doing pretty well for themselves right now, so that’s pretty cool company,” Kowar said.
He’s the first to strike out 13 at the CWS in fewer than seven innings in 40 years, according to ESPN.
Jonathan India, the No. 5 overall draft pick by the Cincinnati Reds and Southeastern Conference player of the year, singled to make it 1-0 in the first inning and he broke the game open with a three-run homer in the sixth.
Texas starter Blair Henley (6-7) struggled with his control and lasted only 2 2/3 innings, the second-shortest of his 22 career starts. He gave up four hits, walked four and threw a wild pitch.
Mississippi State 12, North Carolina 2Jordan Westburg hit a grand slam, doubled and drove in seven runs and Mississippi State continued its surprise postseason surge by beating North Carolina 12-2 on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (39-27), with two wins at the CWS, are off until Friday. Win then or on Saturday, and they’ll be playing for the national championship next week.
This game was all about Westburg, the freshman who two weeks ago came up with the “Rally Banana” that’s become the Bulldogs’ good-luck charm in the NCAA Tournament. His seven runs batted in, on the slam in the second inning and three-run double in the eighth, tied a CWS record.
Westburg crushed a breaking pitch Austin Bergner left hanging, and the ball landed in the seats above the left-field bullpen for a 4-1 lead.
When Westburg returned to the dugout, a teammate handed him his Rally Banana.
Westburg came up with the Bulldogs’ alternate mascot during a regional game against Oklahoma on June 3. The Bulldogs were struggling when he went into the tunnel and grabbed a banana. Instead of eating it, he put it on his head in hopes of turning the Bulldogs’ luck. It must have worked. Mississippi State won, Westburg and his banana got some TV time, and the meme took off.
Since then, Westburg has been the curator of the fruit. (No, it’s not the same banana every game.)
After Westburg’s slam, Bergner (7-3) retired 16 in a row until the start of the eighth inning, when the Bulldogs converted six hits, a walk, a hit batter and two errors into eight runs.
Carolina’s Kyle Datres doubled leading off the game against Konnor Pilkington (3-6) and came home on a sacrifice fly. The Tar Heels (44-19) didn’t score again until the seventh.