Bohls: Texas softball relies on different script to beat Oregon, advance in playoffs
- Texas steers from usual script to hold off Oregon 1-0 and advance to a super regional.
- No. 2 pitcher Molly Jacobsen, a grad transfer from Ole Miss, throws a masterful five-hit shutout.
- The Longhorns' Achilles heel -- faulty defense -- became a strength in Game 7 victory.
Oregon had it all going its way.
The Ducks had dispensed with an exhausted Texas ace Shea O’Leary in the first softball game Sunday.
They had serious momentum with three straight wins in the Austin Regional after initially falling into the losers’ bracket.
They had the luxury of a deep pitching staff more than capable of winning two more games.
They had an impeccable defense.
And they still had a sizable chip on their shoulder for having not been given a national seed and having the misfortune of being shipped all the way to Austin.
In fact, everything was going 10th-ranked Oregon’s way.
Until it didn’t.
And the 11th-ranked Longhorns, pushed to the final game, didn’t just rely on their stars to grab the most critical win of the season as they claimed their eighth regional title in a draining, emotional contest that didn't end until 1:16 Monday morning at soggy McCombs Field.
But terrific No. 2 pitcher Molly Jacobsen calmly pulled out a performance of a lifetime with a solid changeup and movement on her pitches with a five-hit shutout. Nonplussed freshman Jordyn Whitaker started a rally in the first-game loss as a pinch-hitter, then drove in the only run of the second game. And freshman Camille Corona from nearby Dripping Springs did her Nolan Arenado impersonation at third base with some dazzling defense.
In short, Texas (42-12) hardly followed its usual script. But the totally new narrative worked just fine to send the scrappy Longhorns to Stillwater to face No. 5 national seed Oklahoma State in this weekend's super regional with a gripping 1-0 win late, late, real late Sunday night. Texas became the final team to clinch a spot among the Sweet 16 and the only club to advance with a 1-0 victory.
Nothing much went according to form, but the Longhorns seem to be rounding into form.
Consider that a team that has clubbed 76 home runs didn’t hit a single one in the Oregon doubleheader. A team that's relied on big innings and offensive explosions to overcome its defensive shortcomings all year plated only three runs in the two games against Oregon. (No. 1 ranked Oklahoma, as a footnote, hit six homers and scored 24 runs in a single victory over Wichita State and 50 runs in three games to advance out of its bracket.)
And a Texas team that was all but accused of taking gloves out to the field for cosmetic purposes played flawlessly in the nightcap, none more so than Corona, one of five Longhorns who have auditioned at third base this season.
“That just lifted this team,” Texas coach Mike White said of Corona’s heroics, which included six assists for the second time in the regional. “We needed that spark plug.”
A team does what it has to do. And that’s always true for the third-year coach, who has now reached a super regional in all 11 of his seasons at Oregon and Texas, discounting last year's canceled season.
Who cares if the Longhorns ranked 217th in fielding and had just 16 errorless games in a fabulous 42-12 season that only gets better?
“We’ve got a great defense,” Corona rebutted after doing her best to dispel any notion otherwise with the final out of the game after turning a spectacular double play that snuffed out the Ducks’ biggest threat.
The Longhorns certainly did play flawlessly in the nightcap after all kinds of mistakes when the tough Ducks won the first game 3-2 in walk-off fashion.
If anything, it was Oregon that made a baffling defensive miscue that turned costly for the visitors. With one-time Duck Lauren Burke on first after a leadoff single in the fourth inning of the nightcap, Oregon second baseman Allee Bunker fielded a routine, one-out grounder and easily could have forced out Burke at second, yet inexplicably threw to first.
Whitaker, batting next, whistled a single into right field, scoring Burke from second with the game’s lone run.
“We just love her power,” White said of Whitaker. “And she's learning so much. She's kind of like, a raw pallet. She doesn't know any better. I mean, most kids would probably be scared in that situation. Jordyn has no fear."
Nor does this Texas team which has been solid if not sensational much of the year.
Even better, a Longhorns team that hasn't been able to beat elite competition with an 0-9 mark against its most recent Top 25 foes, including Oregon in the early game, showed it had what it took at crunch time. With Jacobsen and the defense, Texas stifled the Ducks, who played with so much “energy and fire that it was suffocating to watch,” White noted.
But the Longhorns withstood it, and are two wins away from a Women’s College World Series berth. Even on a day when career hits leader Janae Jefferson struck out twice (she still hit .538 in the regional) and the biggest knocks came from pinch-hitters Courtney Day and Whitaker, Texas persisted.
“You just don’t know what’s going to happen,” White said. “It was crazy.”
White last week had openly decried the pairings and blasted the NCAA selection committee for pulling the drama card and matching up his Longhorns against his former Oregon Ducks, where he coached for nine spectacular seasons and took them to five WCWS.
Well, if it was drama the NCAA wanted, these two clubs provided it in spades.
In what became a 15-hour day for the teams that included a five-hour rain delay and two emotionally intense contests separated by just half an hour, Texas punched out Oregon and finished its postgame press conference just minutes before 2 a.m.
White took off his hat to his former club, and in fairness, both deserved better.
What had threatened to become an unnerving day of softball transformed into wild celebration in the wee hours. Texas composed itself after the earlier 3-2 defeat, wolfed down a few Jimmy John's turkey sandwiches and were ready for battle.
“Oh, I was a little nervous,” said Jacobsen, the Ole Miss transfer who came to Austin for moments just like this. “I just tried to channel it into a high for my teammates. I think we’re just a resilient team, no matter what. We have each other's backs, whether that's on defense or offense.”
They’ll now have to be to overcome the formidable challenge Oklahoma State represents. The Cowgirls have won all four meetings with Texas this season, three of them at McCombs Field, but there should be no doubt that the Horns won’t shrink from any task. Whether it's O'Leary or Jefferson or any in what they call "22 Strong" players.
“It was an exhausting day,” White said. “Shea wasn’t on her best game today, but Molly’s a sixth-year senior and I didn’t think she’d be fazed by anything. So I figured it’s her game to lose.”
Except Jacobsen and Texas didn’t lose.
They won and advanced, even with a different script.