Last year, Texas had to watch another team celebrate on their home turf. Blaire Luna made sure that wouldn’t happen this year.
The senior All-American tossed her eighth career no-hitter – her fourth this season and the first she’s ever thrown in the postseason – as Texas beat Florida State, 4-0, Sunday afternoon at McCombs Field to clinch a berth in the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2006.
The Longhorns, a year removed from a heartbreaking loss to Oregon in last season’s Super Regional series, will be going to the WCWS for the fifth time in program history.
“It’s a whole lot better feeling than the last couple years,” head coach Connie Clark said. “Certainly there is a sense of relief to get that monkey back being so darn close the last couple years, feeling that the talent was there but coming up short. It’s been a while since we’ve taken a team to the World Series. We’re going to enjoy every single moment.”
Luna was not at her best in Saturday night’s win over the Seminoles, the first game of the best-of-three series, striking out 10 but walking five in a 3-2 come-from-behind victory. But she was sharp Sunday, striking out 13 and walking only one over seven innings, holding Florida State (44-19) hitless the whole way.
“It’s weird because in my warm-up, I didn’t feel that good,” Luna said. “They really take their hacks. The majority of them just swing for the fence. I was just trying to get them to keep it in the park. I was a little bit nervous about keeping them off balance. They didn’t see a lot of rise balls yesterday and that’s what I went with. They saw a lot more drop [balls] yesterday.”
Luna (30-5) fanned seven Seminoles in her first time through the lineup and allowed her first baserunner when she issued a leadoff walk to Kelly Hensley in the fourth. But Morgan Bullock, who reached on a fielder’s choice later in the inning, was caught stealing by Texas catcher Mandy Ogle. That ensured that Luna, who retired the first nine and the last nine batters she faced, would face the minimum 21 batters in Sunday’s win.
Florida State’s Lacey Waldrop held Texas scoreless through the first four innings before getting lit up in the fifth. Karina Scott, who doubled home the winning run in Game 1 on Friday night, led the inning off with a towering home run over the left field wall to give the Longhorns a 1-0 lead.
Texas (49-8) wasn’t done, though. Freshman Lindsay Stephens, making her first career postseason appearance, pinch-hit for Stephanie Ceo in the fifth. She hit the first pitch she saw off the fence in right field and scored when Taylor Hoagland lined a ball off the glove of a diving Courtney Senas.
The ball trickled into left field as Stephens came around to give the Longhorns a 2-0 lead. Hoagland would be the final batter Waldrop would face as she was replaced by Monica Perry with two outs in the fifth.
“We finally made it to OKC and we’re not done yet,” Hoagland said. “It was almost like we were running so fast that we couldn’t get our feet under us [last year]. I didn’t feel super solid like we are this year. This year, we’ve worked hard. We’ve done everything we could possibly do. I don’t have any regrets.”
Taylor Thom, who struck out in three of her first four Super Regional at-bats, lifted a high fly ball over the same left field wall Scott hit it over earlier in the frame. That two-run shot gave Texas a 4-0 lead and gave Luna more than enough run support to send to punch the Longhorns’ ticket to the Women’s College World Series.
“That game was just perfect,” Thom said. “It’s such a surreal feeling like, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to the [Women’s] College World Series.’ That’s something we’ve dreamt about our whole lives. To say that we have the opportunity to go, it’s such an amazing feeling.”
Excluding that four-run fifth inning, Texas had a hard time hitting with runners in scoring position. They had a runner on second or third with less than two outs in the first, second, fourth, sixth and seventh innings without scoring.
But the Longhorns gave Luna all the run support she would need by nearly batting around in that fifth inning. Luna threw 117 pitches, 76 for strikes, on her way to throwing the third no-hitter in Texas postseason history. The first two came in back-to-back games in 2005 by Cat Osterman, who led the Longhorns to their last WCWS appearance seven seasons ago.
Texas, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, will face the winner of the Super Regional series between No. 5 seed Arizona State and No. 12 seed Kentucky on Thursday in Oklahoma City.