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Longhorns softball: Texas run-rules Saint Francis in NCAA Austin Regional opener

Mark Rosner
American-Statesman Correspondent
Janae Jefferson got the Longhorns off to a fast start Friday, hitting a double to deep center and scoring on a sacrifice fly. She was 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs.

A player could lose confidence in herself, and maybe her team, after the way the Longhorns languished at the plate last week in Oklahoma City.

Texas lost two of three games in the Big 12 Tournament, stranding 12 runners on base during a 3-2 loss to Oklahoma State in extra innings and 10 more while getting dismissed from the event by Texas Tech 5-1.

So the Longhorns wanted to quickly redeem themselves to start the NCAA Tournament, and they accomplished that. Texas, led by three hits from reliable leadoff woman Janae Jefferson, pounded Saint Francis (Pa.) 12-0 Friday afternoon in front of 822 fans at McCombs Field.

The plug was pulled in the middle of the fifth inning, per NCAA rules, because Texas had a lead of 10 or more runs.

Texas (40-11) will contest its second game of the Austin Regional at 1 p.m. Saturday against Texas State, which beat Oregon 5-1 Friday night.

Saint Francis (40-9) didn’t have much of a chance, falling behind 4-0 in the first inning.

Starter Grace Vesco (22-4), a redshirt freshman who began the game with an 0.82 ERA, fourth-best in the country, allowed the Longhorns only one really hard-hit ball in the inning.

Jefferson led off with a double to deep center. But then came a bunt single by Shannon Rhodes, a walk, a sacrifice fly by Taylor Ellsworth, a passed ball, a wild pitch and an error at second by Tayven Rousseau on a bouncer by Camille Corona. All three mistakes allowed runs to score.

So, yeah, the Longhorns have their confidence back.

“I’d have to say it was regained with today’s performance,” Jefferson said. “It was important to get off to that start. Scoring early set us up.”

At that point you had to like the Longhorns’ chances: They are now 80-7 since 2019 under coach Mike White when scoring first.

“We were able to score some runs in different ways,” White said. “Getting that first sacrifice bunt (by Rhodes) down and putting a runner in scoring position to be able to capitalize, that's always big.”

Texas added two more runs in the third without hitting a ball out of the infield. There was a walk, then two groundouts, a bunt single by the fleet Corona to bring in a run and an infield hit by Jefferson, with Corona scoring on that one.

Texas starter Shea O’Leary (14-4) went to the bench after throwing just 23 pitches and allowing one hit in three innings as White chose to save her for the next two days. Ryleigh White pitched the last two innings, holding Saint Francis hitless.

Those developments could benefit O’Leary, White and the entire team.

“You want to save (O’Leary’s) arm as much as possible,” the coach said. “Riley’s gotten better. She struggled earlier in the year. Was this a bit of a risk for us? Yes, it was. You got to have confidence. You never know. You may have to turn to Riley later in the week.”

Rousseau made her second error of the game in the fourth inning after committing just three all season, putting Lauren Burke on base. Burke went to third via Mary Iakopo’s double and scored on Ellsworth’s second sacrifice fly of the game.

The pain never stopped for Saint Francis, as Kaitlyn Washington and Jefferson singled home one run apiece and Burke one-upped them, knocking in two with a single of her own in the sixth.

Saint Francis coach Jessica O’Donnell is not with her team; she’s at home in Loretto, Pa., 38 weeks pregnant. Interviewed during the Longhorn Network telecast, O’Donnell suggested that maybe “nerves” and the weather got to her team. Temperatures were in the mid-80s Friday.

“I think Saint Francis kind of felt the heat just a little bit,” White said. “I think the weather was great today. It could be hotter here.”