Texas pitcher Miranda Elish (40) high-fives teammates after striking out a Houston batter during an Austin regional game on May 19, 2019 in Austin. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Elish pitches and pitches and pitches Texas to victory

Posted May 19th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • Texas ace Miranda Elish threw every pitch of every inning in its four wins to win its regional and advance to its first super-regional since 2013.
  • “She’s got big-time guts to pull that off,” said legendary Longhorn pitcher Cat Osterman, who watched from the stands Sunday. 
  • Elish said she wasn't even tired after her fourth game in two days, and head coach Mike White joked that she'd "have bullpen duty tomorrow."

And then Miranda Elish rested.

But not before her arm almost fell off.

Thankfully, it didn’t. That would qualify as outrageous hyperbole, but not any more so than the inconceivable notion that a softball pitcher might throw every single pitch of four games over a two-day span at McCombs Field.

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That’s right.

Every pitch.

All 429 of them.

What, was the Texas bullpen on strike?

Not exactly. Elish, a second-team All-American at Oregon who transferred to Texas at mid-term, was just the one constant that her current and former head coach Mike White could count on. She helped the Longhorns run off four consecutive wins out of the loser’s bracket following a stunning Game 1 loss to Sam Houston State last Friday. That run included a 5-2, 7-0 doubleheader sweep of Houston on Sunday to punch Texas’ first super regional ticket in six years.

Texas pitcher Miranda Elish (40) prepares to throw a pitch against Houston on May 19, 2019 in Austin. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

This weekend was hugely important for White to get Texas back on track. Texas hadn’t sniffed a Women’s College World Series berth since 2013 and has qualified for that marquee event just once since 2006. Cat Osterman doesn’t live here — or pitch here — anymore, but she was in the crowd of 1,405 at McCombs Field on Sunday. She was impressed with Elish, too.

“She’s got big-time guts to pull that off,” said Osterman, who watched from the stands. 

Cat said she didn’t think she’d ever thrown that many in her career, but added that she’d also never lost the first game of a regional. Teams didn’t when Cat was on the mound, and Elish served that role for this team as Texas rebounded from a 33-26 season with a record that is now 45-15 and growing.

Texas needed Elish to be, well, Elish. The same pitcher who had started her career at 20-0 with the Ducks, went 37-2 in Eugene and had thrown the first seven-inning perfect game in that school’s history.

This Texas team’s defense is spotty, to be kind. It committed a mind-boggling seven errors in the first three games of this regional. The offense can be sporadic as well, and it had scored in just two of the first 13 innings of the two games against Houston until a six-run explosion seventh inning. The speed is terrific, and so was Texas’ grit.

But it mostly came down to Elish’s tenacity.

Elish is a junior right-hander. I assume she’s still a right-hander although one had to wonder when she might become a left-hander, given her tremendous workload. She threw those astounding 429 pitches in 29 total innings against Texas A&M and Sam Houston State on Saturday and two games against Houston on Sunday. And walked just three batters. And struck out 33.

At the post-game press conference, initially someone mistakenly said she’d thrown 440 pitches.

“Hey, your number’s 40,” White cracked.

Lucky for Elish that her number wasn’t 800.

Texas pitcher Miranda Elish (40) celebrates a strikeout against Sam Houston State during a college softball game on Friday, May 17, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
Four hundred and 29 pitches. Rise balls. Drops. Change-ups.

But 429. And that doesn’t even count the three warmup pitches between innings. Warmup pitches? Who needs warmup pitches?

But Elish said she didn’t do anything special to refresh herself during Texas’ at-bats. 

“Just sat on the bench,” she said. “Right next to Shannon (Rhodes), three people from the fan.”

In between games, she simply lay on the trainer’s table and ate a wrap and “put biofreeze on my arm.” I think she was joking. She didn’t even take off her cleats as White had advised her to.

White said it’s not your arm that traditionally gives out from such punishment.

Texas pitcher Miranda Elish (40) celebrates a strikeout against Houston during an NCAA college softball tournament Austin Regional game on Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
“It’s your fingers, your feet, your ankles, your back,” he said. “But she never complained about anything.”

Elish, with her ponytail and passion, just bounced out of the dugout each time and ran to the mound. Over and over and over. And when she struck out pinch-hitter Rachel Hill with her 429th pitch to strike out the side in the last inning, she slammed her glove down and raced to hug catcher Mary Iakopo, another Oregon transfer.

Afterward, Elish said she wasn’t even tired.

“I told her she’d have bullpen duty tomorrow,” White said.

An amazing 429 pitches. What in the name of Austin Wood is going on here?

In truth, just as the baseball team needed that left-handed ironman to throw 169 pitches over 13 innings in relief for a crucial regional victory over Boston College in 2009 en route to the CWS title game, so, too, did this softball team rely mightily on Elish.

“She’s awesome,” admired teammate Kaitlyn Washington, who had ended a 1-for-13 regional slump with a solo home run for Texas’ first run. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pitcher throw back to back to back to back.”

Elish had their backs. Texas needed her to throw all 429 pitches. Because all 429 were tense, high-stress, lose-and-stay-home pitches. Especially in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader because she was throwing in a scoreless game for four innings of the nightcap and in a 1-0 game through six innings.

Oh, and of course Elish crushed a two-run double into the left-center gap during the Longhorns’ six-run, leave-no-doubt rally in the top of the seventh.

Then she went right back out on the mound to finish some business.

“If this was animal cruelty,” White joked, “I’d be in trouble.”

Well, she is the horse of this softball team, so White had better tread carefully.

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