Defensive plays pivot momentum as Longhorns find groove against Minnesota

Marcus Krum

With one out and two runners on, one run having already scored, Texas looked to be in deep water again against Minnesota after losing to the Golden Gophers on Friday. But catcher Mary Iakopo wasn’t going to let it happen again.

Iakopo made an excellent play on a bunt to throw out a runner at third, then tagged out a runner in a rundown, sparking a roar from what was one of the biggest crowds at Red & Charline McCombs Field this season. Iakopo’s out ignited a three-run bottom of the inning which would prove to be the difference in a 5-3 win over Minnesota that came just after a 6-2 victory over Texas Southern.

“It’s what we’re looking for, some momentum, someone to give us a spark,” Texas head coach Mike White said. “Last night, they made all the plays, they played really, really well, and we just had to flip it around a little bit.”

With the large Longhorn crowd backing it, the offense finally found its footing in the bottom of the inning. Third baseman Shannon Rhodes and Iakopo each reached base. Then, Lauren Burke hit a sharp grounder that skipped off the glove of the shortstop into the outfield, scoring two runs. Pitcher Miranda Elish then delivered a double to left center field, and Minnesota’s lead immediately disappeared.

“It’s just about somebody stepping up and getting on base,” White said. “We do a pretty good job of adjusting. We were able to adjust against (Minnesota pitcher Amber Fiser) … She tired a little bit at the end of the game and we pounced on that.”

The fans donning burnt orange and white lined the rows of the field, filling out the majority of the 1,254 seats. The crowd of 1,035 had its own impact on the comeback victory.

“We definitely felt it,” Iakopo said. “It was an amazing feeling coming and being at home after yesterday’s loss.”

The win came just one day after a lifeless 4-1 loss to the Golden Gophers in which Texas picked up just three hits and trailed the entire way. A new energy resurfaced Saturday, starting with the blowout win over Texas Southern in which the offensive machine manufactured a run in all but one inning.

It took the offense several innings to get to Fiser but the Texas pitching staff was hot from the start. Pitchers Brooke Bolinger and Ariana Adams worked around trouble in seemingly every inning.

Adams allowed a two-run homer in the seventh inning, then allowed another hit to put the tying run, but she did not panic, calmly getting the final out to close the 5-3 win.

“If you’re challenging the strike zone, that’s going to happen,” White said of the late-game home run. “I’d much rather have that happen than walk someone, walk someone, then hit a dinger … The fact was, she was throwing strikes, she didn’t walk people, and I was proud of her for that.”

After Saturday’s two victories, Texas will take on Minnesota a final time on Sunday to close out the tournament. In what is built like a three-game weekend series, the Longhorns have captured the momentum at McCombs Field. All it took was a couple plays to start the rally.