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Bohls: Risk-taking Mike White makes moves, has Texas on brink of World Series

Texas freshman Jordyn Whitaker celebrates her game-tying solo home run in the sixth inning that served as a prelude to Mary Iakopo's two-run homer for a 4-2 win Saturday that put the Longhorns within one win of the Women's College World Series.
  • Texas freshman Jordyn Whitaker hits crucial, game-tying home run in super regional.
  • Longhorns rely on ace Shea O'Leary and Mary Iakopo's game-winning homer to keep season alive.
  • Texas needs one more win to capture Stillwater Super Regional and grab a World Series berth.

Mike White has clearly found something.

Lord knows he’s been looking hard enough.

But the third-year Texas softball coach has been scouring his entire roster all spring to find the most productive players he can at the two corner infield spots as well as his two corner outfielders.

He doesn’t so much have a set lineup.

He’s got a revolving door.

More:Bohls: Texas softball relies on different script to beat Oregon, advance in playoffs

In 56 games, White’s started four different players at first base, five at third, a whopping seven in left field and an eye-popping nine in right. It wasn’t until late in the season that he took a chance on a second-year freshman, the sure-handled Camille Corona out of Dripping Springs, to play third base. All she did was stabilize that position with sterling play in the regional final and end the audition at that key spot.

But change is the norm for White. You’d think he was drawing them out of his Longhorns cap, but there’s a method to his madness, and it’s usually to get the best offensive players in his lineup card.

Darrell Royal may have danced with what "brung" him. But the musical chairs never seem to stop with White, only the second softball coach at Texas in the history of the program.

He’ll dance with anyone who comes to the ball, even as the 12th-seeded Longhorns try to pull off their own Cinderella style finish in the Stillwater Super Regional.

More:Bohls: Faltine paces Texas' terrific defense to another victory

On Saturday in a do-or-die situation at hostile Oklahoma State, White toyed with his lineup once more and stuck freshman Jordyn Whitaker in the No. 3 hole in the batting order for the first time all season. 

She crushed a solo home run in front of Mary Iakopo’s game-winning, two-run homer that same sixth inning to rally Texas to a 4-2 comeback victory over the fifth-seeded Cowgirls. The win kept the 43-13 Longhorns’ season alive and set up a winner-take-all third game Sunday afternoon with a Women’s College World Series berth on the line.

“With Jordyn, nothing really fazes her,” White said of the rookie out of Jacksonville. “She’s a quiet leader on this team who’s funny as heck. And today could have been a good predictor of the future for our program.”

Texas catcher Mary Iakopo celebrates her home run as Oklahoma State's Karli Petty looks on in the sixth inning during the Longhorns' 4-2 win Saturday that evened up the NCAA super regional series.

He’s right. 

This is a Texas team that lost ace pitcher Miranda Elish when she opted out this year during the pandemic and may be at least a year away from competing with the elite of the elite like No. 1 overall seed Oklahoma and — before Saturday — Oklahoma State. Just don’t tell the Horns that.

The Cowgirls had drummed the Longhorns this year, winning all five matchups including a 6-1 game in the opener of this best-of-three series on Friday, and were six outs from eliminating the Longhorns on Saturday.

“I did tell the team that the past is not a predictor of future results,” White said. “That's what my stock market trading taught me.” 

White’s bullish on his team’s chances. He loves its heart.

More:Oklahoma State 6, Texas 1: Longhorns knocked down by homers in opener of super regional

Because Elish opted out, he’s had to mix and match and sophomore right-hander Shea O’Leary was put into the pressure role for the first time and has come through brilliantly. 

She’ll start again in the finale, not Molly Jacobsen. White gambled by going with Jacobsen as his hot starter in Game 1, but that didn’t work out so well in OSU’s four-home run game. The Cowgirls hit two more off O’Leary in Game 2 but did nothing else.

Shea O'Leary throws a pitch during the Longhorns' 4-2 win Saturday in an NCAA softball super regional game against Oklahoma State.

“Pressure is a privilege,” O’Leary said. “And so I see it as a great opportunity to go out there and have fun. I mean there's pressure in every game, but if we just go out there with confidence like I did today that I think we could beat anybody.” 

It was her complete-game three-hitter Saturday that silenced the home crowd and kept Oklahoma State at bay long enough before Whitaker’s big blow to start the sixth inning for Texas’ first extra-base hit of the super regional and then Iakopo’s two-run blast over the right-field fence.

That three-run outburst was something of an outlier for Texas this weekend. Janae Jefferson, the best hitter in school history, singled and scored a run in the first inning of Friday’s game, and then OSU’s Big 12 pitcher of the ear Carrie Eberle stifled the Longhorns thereafter. Saturday starter Kelly Maxwell did the same, checking them on one hit over four innings as Texas batters consistently chased pitches out of the zone.

After Jefferson’s run in the first inning of Game 1, Texas had been incredibly silent with zero runs on five hits the next 10 innings over the two days. Whitaker changed all that with one swing.

“I just trust myself,” she said, “because I know Coach trusts me.”

White trusts this entire team, for that matter. Why not, after 14 comeback victories.

Texas hadn’t been all that impressive against ranked opponents, losing all nine games against Top 25 teams this year before edging Oregon 1-0 in a must-win situation to capture the Austin Regional last Sunday. Whitaker was a key factor in that one, too, driving in the lone run to back up Jacobsen’s five-hit shutout.

OSU coach Kenny Gajewski applauded Texas’ sense of urgency but expects the same from his team Sunday. And he also said he thought the pressure was on the Longhorns because they must feel they’ve gotten over the hump.

“The opportunity is there. Texas isn’t gonna lay over. I didn’t think they’d lay over yesterday or today,” Gajewski said. “We’ve got to take it to ‘em. I think it’ll be epic (Sunday). I think our crowd will be out of control. That’s part of a program here that is learning how to finish, and we’ll be better, I promise that.”

Texas promises a similar effort.

The Longhorns will be facing Eberle, who shut them down on Friday, as well as the road crowd.

That doesn’t seem to bother them.

“I think right now we’re so used to having our backs against the wall that everybody sees us as an underdog and losing all the games,” O’Leary (16-5) said. “That just made us tougher competitors and just wanting this even more than anybody else right now. That motivates us when we hear people talking down to go out there and just get it done and just prove everybody wrong.” 

Texas has some mojo as well as motivation and the track record of its relatively new coach. White’s one who can’t help but tinker with changes, constantly searching for the right formula that can return the Longhorns to a place they haven’t been since 2013.

That would be the Women’s College World Series, a destination White booked for his Oregon Ducks five times in the nine seasons he spent with them before uprooting himself and relocating to Austin.

These Longhorns, in truth, might be a bit ahead of schedule. But you can bet White will have something drastic up his sleeve.