By Jerry Briggs
For The JB Replay
Texas Longhorns pitcher Lebarron Johnson Jr. barely could find the words to describe what it felt like to throw a complete game in the NCAA tournament. To fire a season-high 129 pitches and to beat the national No. 9-seeded Miami Hurricanes, 4-1, on their home field.
“It was surreal, honestly,” Johnson, a redshirt sophomore from Jacksonville, Fla., told ESPN. “I just knew I had to keep going for my team, for my pen, for my offense. I just tried to dig deep. I thank the Lord for allowing me to get through it.”
The Longhorns, likewise, are thanking Johnson for a sterling performance that allowed them to improve to 2-0 in the NCAA Coral Gables Regional.
With the win, they’ll play Sunday night for the regional title. In the first game Sunday, the Hurricanes will face the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in a battle of once-beaten teams. The loser will be eliminated, while the winner will move into the title round against the Longhorns.
Texas’ opponent will need to win Sunday night and again on Monday to claim the regional title. Meaning, of course, that the Longhorns like their chances of playing next week in the Super Regional round.
In the aftermath of the victory, Johnson spoke to ESPN television broadcasters on the field, still wide-eyed about what he had done.
“It’s surreal, honestly,” he said. “I’m still trying to process this.”
In completing nine innings, he allowed seven hits, one earned run and walked three while striking out eight. In one stretch, from the fourth through the seventh innings, he retired 11 straight. Johnson, who improved to 8-3 on the season, said Texas coach David Pierce approached him after the eighth inning to ask him how he felt.
“He came to me,” Johnsons said. “He said, ‘Do you want it? I said, ‘Yes, sir. I’ll try my best.’ ”
To start the game, the Longhorns jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Dylan Campbell supplied the fireworks with a two-run homer.
Johnson, in turn, endured a rough go of it. He loaded the bases on a walk, a single and another walk. Luckily for him, the Hurricanes couldn’t get anything out of it.
“I had to get my nerves out of the way, honestly,” he said. “I was nervous coming in, with the rain delay and all that. I just knew that I had to trust my work. Trust my coaches. Trust my ability to go out there and do my job. I just had to pull through for my team.”
The Longhorns added single runs in the second and third, pushing out to a 4-0 lead. San Antonio’s Jalin Flores, a freshman from Brandeis, figured in the scoring with an RBI single in the third.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Hurricanes finally broke through. Dominic Pitelli led off with a solo home run. That, however, is all that they would get the rest of the way.
The Hurricanes threatened in the eighth and ninth, but came up empty each time.
Statistics would indicate that Johnson might have been building toward something like this for the past six weeks. In his last six starts, he threw 91, 85, 112, 83, 101 and 95 pitches. So, it wasn’t totally surprising to see coaches let him go out for the last inning.
“I’m from Florida, so I’m kind of used to this (heat) a little bit,” he said. “The tiredness kicked in a little bit. But I just knew I needed to dig deep … execute pitches and trust my team.”