The No. 4 Longhorn's game versus No. 1 Oklahoma was postponed Friday night due to the threat of severe weather. It has been resecheduled for Saturday, June 1 at 1:30 p.m.
Both games scheduled for the Women's College World Series on Friday night were originally delayed by two hours due to tornado and hail reports in the area, according to the National Weather Service. Tennessee and Washington were scheduled to play in the first of the two evening games at 6 p.m. with the Texas and Oklahoma game slated for 8:30 p.m.
"All Safe and Sound in OKC," Texas softball tweeted Friday night. "Hunkered down in hotel with the rest of the teams here. Tonight we're all #OneTeam."
When the No. 4 Longhorns stepped onto the Women’s College World Series field in Oklahoma City, they didn’t expect anything, other than the weather, to be a breeze. Arizona State had shutout the squad 3-0 in March and a host of Sun Devils remained from the 2011 championship team. Each team was a “great ball club”, as head coach Connie Clark put it. But something among the burnt orange felt different en route to the Longhorns’ 6-3 victory.
“Coming off of yesterday’s practice, we were just a little bit nervous,” Clark said. “They kept assuring me today that they were ready to go and feeling good. They were loose and looked like the Texas team that I knew and did a tremendous job.”
Showcasing fierce pitching, starters Blaire Luna (31-5) and Sun Devil Dallas Escobedo (30-5) maintained four scoreless, hitless innings to open their series debut. As Luna allowed a leadoff walk before striking out eight in the four innings, Texas’ power hitters sought to pull ahead. In the second inning, Kim Bruins even smacked the ball over the fence and into the glove of left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio, who reached above the fence to grab the almost home run.
“I hit it and I thought it was going to be a flyout, but the wind kept pushing and pushing it,” Bruins said. “Then I saw her reach over and just snag it.”
A Bruins popout in the third stranded Brejae Washington and Taylor Thom after walks to send the Longhorns into the fifth with the game still at 0-0.
When Caporuscio singled to right in the fifth, the first hit of the game released a contagion of offensive production. Alix Johnson’s two-run double bounced off the fence for the scoreboard’s first tallies, but the Longhorns didn’t waste any time.
Ready for a characteristic two-out explosion, Thom’s RBI double paired with a Sun Devil error to bring home Washington and Stephanie Ceo. Prior to this game, 36.9 percent of Texas’ season runs came with two outs. Bruins then reclaimed the homer Caporuscio robbed her of in the second as the ball tipped off the left fielder’s glove and out of the park, to finish the inning up 4-2.
“It was so intense,” Bruins said. “I was seeing [Escobedo] pretty well all night, so I was just hoping to go put something into play and it fell in my favor. [The softball gods] just evened it out for me, they threw me a bone.”
But the powers that be didn’t hand a victory to the Longhorns with ease. The sixth inning sent Texas on an emotional rollercoaster as Haley Steele smashed a homer, before Luna struck out her 10th batter of the game and 1400th of her career.
After Ceo and Hoagland connected to send home teammates for a 6 -4 lead, Clark made a big decision entering the seventh. Knowing Arizona State head coach Clint Myers was calling Luna’s pitches to give his batters a heads up, she rotated Bruins into the circle.
“If you’ve seen Luna and you know her, she is about as good as anybody in the country when the bases are loaded so it’s tough,” Clark said. “But Bruins has been ready. They were two of the most patient hitters, and the timing was right to make a move. [Bruins] brought a different look to them and did a great job.”
Bruins struck out the first two batters, but big hitter Amber Freeman singled down the right field line to advance Cheyenne Coyle to third. Steele stepped back up to the plate and connected on another pitch, but this time Hoagland caught it to secure the win.
“We came out and attacked,” Clark said. “But I like it more mentally than physically. We’ll be ready to play tomorrow night, take it one day and one pitch at a time.”
Texas will face No. 1 Oklahoma at 8:30 p.m. on Friday night on ESPN2.
Blaire Luna has been the Longhorns’ ace each of the last four seasons. The local product from Bowie High School has led Texas to its first trip to Oklahoma City since 2006 and is making her Women’s College World Series debut Thursday evening against Arizona State, the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the 2011 WCWS champs.
Luna threw her eighth career no-hitter, the fourth she’s thrown this season and her first in the postseason in the Super Regional clincher against Florida State last Sunday, a 2-0 victory over the Seminoles. She took the loss against the Sun Devils in a 3-0 loss in mid-March but is among the hottest pitchers coming into the WCWS.
Take a look at how she compares against the other aces in Oklahoma City (all statistics are from before the WCWS began):
Keliani Ricketts (Oklahoma) – 31-1, 1.22 ERA, 311 K, 49 BB, 207.1 IP, .155 BAA (4-0, 2.19 ERA this postseason)
Ivy Renfroe (Tennessee) – 21-4, 1.71 ERA, 140 K, 46 BB, 143.2 IP, .201 BAA (4-0, 0.47 ERA this postseason)
Sara Driesenga (Michigan) – 30-7, 1.25 ERA, 234 K, 71 BB, 243.1 IP, .223 BAA (4-1, 1.46 ERA this postseason)
Kaitlin Inglesby (Washington) – 22-7, 1.87 ERA, 130 K, 38 BB, 168.1 IP, .228 BAA (1-0, 0.60 ERA this postseason)
Tatum Edwards (Nebraska) – 30-9, 1.81 ERA, 214 K, 134 BB, 240 IP, .193 BAA (4-1, 1.62 ERA this postseason)
Hannah Rogers (Florida) – 33-5, 1.48 ERA, 238 K, 83 BB, 255.1 IP, .193 BAA (5-0, 2.22 ERA this postseason)
Blaire Luna (Texas) – 30-5, 1.16 ERA, 384 K, 105 BB, 229.2 IP, .130 BAA (4-0, 0.97 ERA this postseason)
Luna has the best ERA among WCWS aces (1.16) and the most strikeouts (384) and leads the country with 11.7 strikeouts per seven innings. Only Inglesby (0.60) and Renfroe (0.47) have lower postseason ERAs among the eight aces in Oklahoma City than Luna entering the WCWS.
But Inglesby and Renfroe have No. 2 pitchers behind them that eat up a significant amount of innings. Renfroe’s younger sister, Ellen, is 17-4 with a 1.83 ERA this season, striking out 183 and walking 63 in 168 2/3 innings for Tennessee while Bryana Walker is 19-7 with a 2.81 ERA this year and got the win in four of five Washington’s victories between the Regionals and Super Regionals.
One thing that Luna has over the other seven WCWS aces, though, is the fact the she is coming into the WCWS having thrown a no-hitter in her last start. She struck out 13 and walked just one in that 2-0 win over FSU last weekend, tossing the third postseason no-hitter in school history (Cat Osterman has the other two, throwing them in back-to-back postseason games in 2005).
Here’s what has been said about Luna over the last few days:
“She was up there with the top pitchers we’ve seen. I would say, speed-wise, maybe not, but the fact that she could pick apart hitters to get us to consistently chase her junk, the fact that she could no-hit us after already facing us [Saturday] is pretty outstanding. She’s definitely she’s one of the top pitchers we’ve seen and there’s a reason she’s going to the [Women’s College] World Series.”
-Florida State center fielder Morgan Bullock
“She picked our weaknesses. I know, with me, she hadn’t thrown me too many drop balls the [Saturday] and she attacked me with them [Sunday] and I was chasing them. Props to her for making her adjustments. “
-Florida State left fielder Kirstin Austin
“You try not to talk about it. Because if you talk about it, you feel like you’re going to jinx it. Blaire strikes out a lot of betters so we try to stay in the moment and stay behid her. If we do get a ball, we just try to be ready for it.”
-Texas shortstop Taylor Tom
“Every opportunity we get to alleviate the pitch count for Luna is a good one. But Blaire gets better when she throws more and, to be real honest, we didn’t have her going as much so to me it was really impressive that she went Saturday night and came back Sunday and was sharper Sunday. We haven’t had that opportunity as of late. I think she’ll stay hot for us.”
-Texas head coach Connie Clark
“Her mental toughness, it’s not even comparable to what it was freshman year. She definitely has done a great job of growing mentally and physically.”
-Texas senior Kim Bruins
Watch Texas face Arizona State in its WCWS opener Thursday night at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
Nobody on this year’s Texas team has any experience playing at the Women’s College World Series. It’s been seven years since the Longhorns made the trip to Oklahoma City.
But they have experience against several of the teams also making that trip this year. Texas beat Washington earlier this season and fell to Arizona State, who it will face Thursday at 6 p.m. at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
But there’s one team in Oklahoma City that the Longhorns can’t wait to get another crack at – top-seeded Oklahoma. The Sooners have four All-Americans on their squad, including two-time national player of the year Keilani Ricketts, who is 31-1 with a 1.22 ERA while hitting .375 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs this season.
Oklahoma came to Austin and won two of three against Texas last month but the Longhorns would love to see them again in Oklahoma City.
“I want to play them again,” senior Kim Bruins said. “They beat us in conference but we know we were so close to beating [Ricketts] that when, I think, it really counts, we’ll get her."
In eight career games against Texas, Ricketts is 4-2 with a 4.06 ERA, striking out 56 and walking eight in 37 2/3 innings while holding the Longhorns to a .224 batting average. She has batted .300 with a two home runs and nine RBIs in those games, drawing 11 walks and boasting a 1.198 OPS in those contests.
If Texas, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, beats fifth-seeded Arizona State, they would face Oklahoma on Friday night if the Sooners beat No. 8 seed Michigan on Thursday night.
“We took a game from Oklahoma. It’s not like those teams ran all over us,” senior Taylor Hoagland said. “This team is fearless. We’re not worried about any team on our side or the other side. We’re indifferent. If they weren’t great, they wouldn’t be there. That’s kind of how I feel about us, too.”
The Women’s College World Series may be an unfamiliar place for Texas, but Arizona State is not an unfamiliar opponent.
The Longhorns played the Sun Devils once this year, falling to ASU, 3-0, in their first game at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. back in March. Junior Dallas Escobedo, who led Arizona State to a national title as a freshman in 2011, tossed a three-hit shutout in that game.
“Dallas Escobedo, she has a great rise ball. She’s a great pitcher,” senior Taylor Hoagland said. “She’s been there before. That’s one thing they have on us is experience but that doesn’t matter. It could be anybody’s game at any point in time so we’re really excited.”
Hoagland is one of four seniors – the others being pitcher Blaire Luna, outfielder Torie Schmidt and utility player Kim Bruins – on this Longhorns squad, which is making its first trip to Oklahoma City since 2006. Texas was bounced out of the Regionals in 2010 and 2011 before falling to Oregon in the Super Regionals last year in heartbreaking fashion.
But the Longhorns, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, are back at the WCWS for the first time since Cat Osterman toed the rubber for them. They will face the Sun Devils, the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City on Thursday at 6 p.m. The winner will play either top-seeded Oklahoma or No. 8 seed Michigan on Friday night.
Just because they haven’t been there in a while doesn’t mean they didn’t expect to be there this season.
“Every single year,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I don’t really think it’s ego. I think you should have that expectation every year as a coach. Anything less is a disappointment for us. When we hit the recruiting trail, we sell that and we talk about it. It’s not lip service. We need to get the type of student-athletes that can take us there every year.”
Luna has been very sharp this postseason, going 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 29 innings. She capped off Texas’ Super Regional series win over Florida State by throwing her eighth career no-hitter – the first during the postseason – while striking out 13 and walking only one. Luna goes into the WCWS as arguably the hottest pitcher in the eight-team field.
“It’s definitely our time,” Luna said. “We’ve played some of those teams and we’ve kept up with them. We took one from Oklahoma, we beat Washington and the Arizona State game was a close one. I definitely think we have all the key factors.”
Luna was one of three Texas players who were named AFCA All-Americans this week. Luna and Hoagland were named first-team All-Americans while shortstop Taylor Thom, who hit a two-run home run in Sunday’s 4-0 win over the Seminoles, was named a third-team All-American.
“We’re peaking right now,” Thom said. “The World Series is a totally different atmosphere. It’s just going to be an amazing feeling.”
Texas is making its fifth trip to the WCWS. Its last WCWS win was a 2-0 victory in its 2006 opener at Oklahoma City – against Arizona State.