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.