MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

Thornhill blanks Vanderbilt to lead Texas to victory

Right-hander was selected by Phillies in 13th round of the Draft

Thornhill blanks Vanderbilt to lead Texas to victory

OMAHA, Neb. -- Nathan Thornhill doesn't light up radar guns or wow pro scouts. But he does know how to mix three pitches and throw them for strikes, and that formula has worked wonders in the NCAA tournament.

The Texas senior right-hander worked eight shutout innings against Vanderbilt at the College World Series on Friday afternoon, earning a 4-0 victory that sets up a Saturday rematch to determine who will advance to the championship series. The Commodores had been the hottest-hitting team in the CWS, but they managed just six hits and one walk against Thornhill.

"Offensively, we didn't have much today and that's a credit to Nathan," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "In order for us to win today, they'd have to have scored minus one run. He was expanding the plate pretty well. It seemed like when he was getting a call on the outer half of the plate, he was able to go back out there again and maybe a couple of inches more."

Thornhill rarely brushed 90 against the Commodores, but he threw 83 of his 131 pitches for strikes and let his defense do the work. Though he's just 6 feet tall and 163 pounds, he maintained his upper-80s fastball velocity throughout a hot and humid day at TD Ameritrade Park. His curveball was more effective than his changeup early, but he was able to throw any of his pitches whenever needed and retired 14 of the last 16 batters he faced.

"I thought it was a dominating performance," said Texas coach Augie Garrido, who's seeking his sixth national title and third with the Longhorns. "I do think they were trying to run his pitch count up because of the heat to try to get him out of the game. Both [pitching coach] Skip [Johnson] and I thought the same thing and passed on the information to Nate, and he has the kind of command where he can capitalize on something like that."

Vanderbilt never got a runner to third base and had two hitters reach base in just one inning, the fourth. That rally ended when Texas sophomore shortstop C.J. Hinojosa made a nifty play on a grounder rocketed off the bat of freshman catcher Jason Delay.

The win was the third in four NCAA tournament outings for Thornhill, who has allowed just five runs in 29 1/3 innings during that span. He beat archrival Texas A&M in the regionals and Houston in the super regionals, then blanked UC Irvine for seven innings before giving up two runs in the eighth and taking a loss. Since getting shelled by Oklahoma State in late April, he has permitted just six runs (five earned) in seven starts.

"The difference has just been sticking to my game, keeping it simple," Thornhill said. "Against Oklahoma State, I got distracted for a number of reasons. Since then, I've just kept reminding myself to attack hitters and it has worked out."

The Astros drafted Thornhill in the 24th round a year ago, and he nearly signed before opting to return for his senior season. Garrido has cited that decision, and a similar one by senior center fielder Mark Payton, as sparking the Longhorns' return to Omaha after they didn't make the NCAA tournament in 2012 and '13.

"I was very close to signing and it was hard not to," said Thornhill, who went in the 13th round to the Phillies this June. "Obviously, it's a dream to play professional baseball. The decision was made to come back for several reasons, and my experience has been awesome."

The shutout was the second straight for Texas, which became the first CWS team to accomplish that feat since eventual national champion Oregon State in 2006. The Longhorns have allowed just four runs -- three came in that eighth inning against UC Irvine -- which is tied for the third-lowest total through four games in CWS history.

While preventing runs hasn't been an issue for Texas, scoring them has. The Longhorns totaled six runs and batted .202 in their first three contests, and they managed just five hits against the Commodores. But they took advantage of some early opportunities to score two runs in the first inning and two more in the second, which was more than enough for Thornhill.

"Four runs is our limit," Garrido joked afterward.

Vanderbilt sophomore right-hander Tyler Ferguson, a likely early-round selection in the 2015 Draft, opened his outing with a 95-mph fastball-- which drilled junior second baseman Brooks Marlow. Ferguson then walked sophomore left fielder Ben Johnson on four pitches and hit Payton to load the bases. After fanning freshman catcher Tres Barrera, Ferguson induced what might have been an inning-ending double-play grounder from Hinojosa.

Before the ball could reach Commodores second baseman Dansby Swanson, however, it struck umpire Mark Uyl. The resulting dead ball call gave Hinojosa a hit and Texas the first run of the game. It soon got a second when Ferguson issued a two-out, bases-loaded walk to senior DH Madison Carter.

Ferguson's start ended when he threw two more balls to the next batter, freshman first baseman Kacy Clemens. Sidewinding junior right-hander Brian Miller got out of that jam and pitched four-hit ball the rest of the way, though he was touched for two runs in a second when the Commodores played a couple of fly balls by freshman third baseman Zane Gurwitz and Marlow into triples.

On Saturday, Vanderbilt will start sophomore right-hander Carson Fulmer, a projected 2015 first-round pick with a mid-90s fastball who beat Louisville in his first CWS outing. Texas is expected to counter with junior righty Parker French, a 19th-round pick of the Tigers who also defeated the Cardinals in his initial CWS start. The Commodores once again will be without starting third baseman Xavier Turner, who was ruled ineligible Thursday night for an unspecified NCAA rules violation.

Friday's results
Texas 4, Vanderbilt 0
Mississippi vs. Virginia, game suspended

Saturday's games
Mississippi vs. Virginia, 3 p.m. ET (Mississippi eliminated if loses)
Texas vs. Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET (loser eliminated)

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.