The start of conference play may be a “new season,” but the first road games in conference are a whole different animal. That sentiment was made loud and clear to the Longhorns this weekend in Stillwater.
In the first Big 12 out-of-state road trip of the year, the Longhorns were shutout for both the first and second times this year on Friday and Saturday. Pitcher and designated player Miranda Elish powered the Longhorns to a Sunday victory over No. 21/16 Oklahoma State to avoid being swept, but not before two of Texas’ toughest losses of the season.
After a weekend where the Texas offense ran out to a hot start in conference play at home against Iowa State, the bats fell ice cold in each of the first two matchups against the Cowgirls.
Elish, who has gotten even stronger in the circle as the season has gone on, got the start Friday and continued her stretch of great pitching performances. Her first six innings, she shut out Oklahoma State, but a walk and an error to start the seventh inning was all they needed to rally. The Cowgirls scored on a fielder’s choice to win the game, leaving the only run scored in a 1-0 game an unearned one.
“The difference in the series was that Friday night game,” Texas head coach Mike White said during a postgame radio interview. “(Saturday’s) game, you can’t get two wins from that game, so the difference (in losing Friday’s game) was one series win.”
Although it’s true that Oklahoma State didn’t win two games on Saturday, it may as well have felt like it. The Cowgirls held nothing back in the series’ second matchup, blowing out the Longhorns 8-0.
Pitcher Shealyn O’Leary entered the game with an NCAA-leading 0.45 ERA. Yet she struggled Saturday and threw just 1.1 innings, allowing two earned runs. Pitchers Brooke Bolinger and Ariana Adams each came into the game in relief and each had their own problems. The Cowgirls ended the game early, run-ruling Texas in just five innings.
“We needed to break this,” White said. “We’ll get the momentum back in our favor, and we needed to come back with a big win just to give us some confidence.”
The Longhorns got exactly what they needed on Sunday. They salvaged the final game in Stillwater, with another phenomenal performance from Elish to end the trip on a high note.
Elish threw a complete game, allowing three runs and helping her own cause at the plate, smashing a homer well over the wall in left-center. Maybe her energy on the rubber is just as important. By the end of the game, every strike had Elish animated as she capped it with a strikeout with the tying run on base that sealed the win.
“She was looking great,” catcher Mary Iakopo said during a postgame interview with Fox Sports. “She was out there competing, that’s the old Miranda out there today. We’re just glad she was there.”
The win saved what could have been a disastrous first road test in conference play. Instead, Texas came out with plenty of room for improvement but momentum swung in its favor.
“It’s a big win, being on the road,” Iakopo said. “Finally got our first on the road win in conference, so that’s just a good thing for us as a team.”