The path through regionals could not have set up better for the Longhorns. They were the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and had drawn a regional match-up at home. Houston and Texas State were on deck, both beaten by Texas earlier in the year, along with a small-conference school Louisiana-Lafayette.
It looked good for the Longhorns at the start, as they blanked Texas State 2-0 with a dominating one-hit shutout from sophomore pitcher Blaire Luna.
“It’s nice to start with a win,” said head coach Connie Clark. “I loved our body language and our mentality. We’ve certainly been talking and working on that all week.”
Texas looked to carry momentum from the win into the next day, in a match for control of the bracket versus Houston. Luna delivered another outstanding game in the circle, allowing only one run in seven innings of work. The Horns’ offense failed to deliver for the second game in a row, and this time it earned them a 1-0 loss against the Cougars.
“I thought Blaire pitched a great game. I thought she was tough as nails, but we didn’t deliver offensively when we had opportunities today,” Clark said. “We’ve got to get them reset quickly and get ready to go for tonight.”
The Longhorns were not able to reset quickly enough, falling to Louisiana-Lafayette 5-3 later in the day to end the season on a sour note for the second year in the row.
Texas’ goal all season had been College World Series or bust; demonstrated often by their rallying cry of “6-8-11,” the date of the National championship game in Oklahoma City.
“I haven’t even thought about if we’re checking out of the hotel tonight,” Clark said. “It’s extremely difficult to be finished.”
The early exit of the team is not unexpected. The Longhorns were slipping late in the season coming into the NCAA tournament. They went undefeated in their first 14 conference games, but had lost four out of the last six.
The team’s late-season slide cost them their second-straight Big 12 title and, perhaps more importantly, their confidence.
The Longhorns spent most of the year destroying team record books — setting new records for batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases — with one of the best pitching staffs in the country. At one point they received votes for the No. 1 ranking in the country and were favorites to reach Oklahoma City.
The offense faltered down the stretch and could not push runs across when they were really needed. Texas averaged only 1.8 runs a game in the past nine games; a shocking statistic for a team that would run rule teams on a nightly basis earlier in the year.
One of their main problems at the plate is the team was often too aggressive against good pitching — putting the batters in pitchers’ counts, causing numerous rally-killing pop-ups and strikeouts. This was a problem especially against Houston, when they often stepped to the plate only to quickly be headed back to the dugout after one or two pitches.
“I think we were aggressive, we chased some stuff out of the zone,” Clark said. “Typically, we have a backup plan that we go to where we try and shorten up and put it in play. But we didn’t make that happen as well as we are capable of doing today.”
The future looks bright for the team going forward despite the disappointing end to the season.
They are only losing two starters this year: senior Raygan Feight, a defensive-minded second baseman; and catcher Amy Hooks, a leader behind the plate who is the Longhorns’ all-time homerun leader.
The team does have 12 talented returning players that will be eager to redeem themselves.
Out of the returning players, there is a great mix of defense and hitting talent, including two excellent pitchers in Luna and freshman Rachel Fox.
“We still go back to work,” Clark said. “We need to figure out how to make the adjustments and get further. Obviously, that’s our dream and that’s our goal. I don’t mind that we talk about it. You have to talk about it and have that dream in your mind to keep pushing.”