SEATTLE – Kaitlyn Slack’s RBI blooper to right field in the top of the sixth put Texas on top for good as the Longhorns battled through a pitching duel in their 2-1 win over Minnesota at the NCAA regional in Seattle Friday.
The victory advances Texas to the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination regional of the NCAA tournament. The Longhorns (33-24) play the winner of No. 5 Washington and Boise State at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
“More than anything, it’s obviously good to get off on a good start,” Texas coach Connie Clark said. “We played really well in all facets of the game.”
Paige von Sprecken (12-11) went the distance, surrendering four hits, one earned run and three walks, while striking out three in seven innings. Von Sprecken utilized her off-speed pitches to throw Gophers’ hitters off-balance and force easy pop-ups.
“That’s one thing she does really well,” Clark said. “She gives you a look with three different speeds. So she’s not just going at you hard, then with a straight changeup. She’s got a little gap pitch in there, as well. When she gets that rise ball up, that’s a little bit harder than everything else.”
Von Sprecken outdueled Minnesota’s ace Amber Fiser (26-9) who left the circle after giving up six hits and an earned run through four innings.
Texas’ defense made plays when it mattered, including second baseman Janae Jefferson’s spinning stop and throw to first base that quelled Minnesota’s (39-16) momentum in the bottom of the fifth.
Clark said she knew they’d need every bit of defense to stave off the Big Ten champion Gophers.
“Specifically on the right side and the defense we got from von Sprecken was huge,” Clark said. “Just to not panic. Our young infield played like veterans.”
MK Tedder’s RBI blooper to left field, that fell just between the Gophers’ shortstop Carlie Brandt and left fielder Ellee Jensen, put the Longhorns on top 1-0 in the top of the fourth inning.
The Gophers tied it up at one when von Sprecken put runners on first and third after giving up a walk and a single. MaKenna Partain’s RBI groundout to second tied the game at a run apiece.
Kaitlyn Washington, who went 3-for-3, reached second base in the top of the sixth by beating out an infield single, then advancing to second on Tedder’s sacrifice grounder to third. Then Slack’s blooper to shallow right field was kicked around by the Gophers’ second baseman.
“I was trying to stay aggressive with my at-bat and attack,” Slack said. “I know if the first pitch is there, that’s the best pitch I’m going to get. I attacked the first pitch and it fell, so I was happy.”
That brought in Washington who came flying around third base and easily beat the throw to home to score the winning run.
“I saw that the ball got booted then I heard coach Clark ‘Go, go, go, go!’ She was running it out with me and I was going full speed,” Washington said.
The last time the Longhorns faced the Gophers was at the 2017 Texas Classic in Austin, where they lost 5-2 and 11-6.
Texas, which entered the match having lost nine of its last 15 games while hitting .269 as a team for the season, relied on clutch hitting to pull out the win.
“Our hitters had a good game plan going in and executed well,” Clark said. “[They] gave us chances, made them play some defense and that was absolutely what we talked about prior to the game.”