It took a while for Texas' Super Regional series against Florida State to start, but once it did, the Longhorns made it worth the wait.
Texas is one win away from earning a spot in the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2006 after taking down the Seminoles, 3-2, in dramatic fashion during the first game of a best-of-three Super Regional series Saturday. The Longhorns fell behind 2-0 in the third inning but pushed a run across in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings to beat the Seminoles.
The comeback was capped off by an RBI double by Karina Scott to left-center field with one out in the sixth. After driving home the first Texas run with an infield single in the fourth, Scott crushed the first pitch she saw in her at-bat in the sixth as Torie Schmidt scored the go-ahead run.
“We knew it would be a matter of time if we could just stay where we needed to mentally,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I thought we slowed everything down exceptionally well tonight and really owned the moment. I think that’s very important when you’re in an atmosphere like this. I felt like that was the difference in the ballgame.”
Blaire Luna did not have her best stuff in Saturday’s victory, striking out 10 but walking five in the complete-game triumph. The first two of those walks came in the third inning before Florida State’s Victoria East lined a two-out, two-strike double over the head of right fielder Gabby Smith to bring home Kelly Hensley and Maddie O’Brien.
But Luna came through when it mattered most. With the game tied at 2 in the sixth, she surrendered a pair of singles and walked the bases loaded with one out. But she struck out Alex Kossoff and Hensley to end the inning and give Texas the momentum necessary to take the lead in the home half of the inning.
“We put on a great show,” Luna said. “All day we’ve been watching other games of other teams playing and a lot of them fought. I’m just really proud of our team.”
Pitching with the lead for the first time, Luna nearly coughed it up in the seventh. O’Brien lifted a ball to deep left field and, while it was in the air, even Luna admitted to being concerned that she had just hit a game-tying home run.
“I was a little bit [nervous],” Luna said. “I always get just a little bit nervous but I think that’s really good. Really, I was just trying to go right at them, get ahead in the count and spread the zone.”
Luna, after issuing a two-out walk, would get Celeste Gomez to fly out to right to end the game.
Despite not recording a 1-2-3 inning the entire night, Luna improved to 29-5 on the year and helped the Longhorns move to within one victory from reaching the WCWS for the first time since 2006. Game 2 of the Super Regional series is set to start Sunday at 2 p.m.
Game 1 was originally scheduled to begin Friday night at 8 p.m. before rain postponed it to Saturday at 2 p.m. and again to Saturday at 8 p.m.
“It was good to play finally,” Clark said. “I think our team did a great job of working through that. We talked about staying loose and when the bell rings, be ready for the call. I thought we came out and did a nice job tonight.”
After East’s two-run double in the previous inning, Kim Bruins drew a leadoff walk in the fourth and scored on Scott’s infield single. Scott weakly hit the ball just past Florida State pitcher Lacey Waldrop and out of the reach of East, the first baseman as Bruins raced around to score the Longhorns’ first run of the night.
Stephanie Ceo began the fifth with a perfectly placed drag bunt, her first and only hit of the game. Taylor Hoagland reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second base and scored when Brejae Washington drilled a 3-1 offering from Waldrop to center field, tying the game, 2-2.
“With the 3-1 count, I was waiting for my pitch and something small,” Washington said. “I just needed something on the ground to be able to punch it through the hole and score Taylor Hoagland.”
With the win, Texas finds itself in a familiar position. The Longhorns won their Super Regional series opener over Oregon, 4-2, on their home field last season before falling to the Ducks in the next two games and failing to earn a trip to Oklahoma City for the WCWS.
“Us juniors and seniors have been in this position before so it’s kind of not taking that first one for granted,” Washington said. “We have to go in and fight and keep the same mindset that we have today because [Florida State has] a common goal just like we do and they’re trying to get to the World Series just like we are. We can’t take that for granted.”
Sunday afternoon, Texas gets a chance to prove, once and for all, it truly is a different and better team than last year. Once again, the Longhorns are one win away from the WCWS.