Led by a lifelong Longhorn and a grad transfer, Texas moves on to NCAA's super regionals
Early Monday morning, Texas third baseman Camille Corona fielded a softball and fired it to first base.
That play gave the Longhorns the final out they needed in a 1-0 shutout of Oregon, making Texas the last team standing in the Austin Regional.
The game-ending out was one of several defensive highlights recorded by Corona, who was a UT fan growing up. Her favorite Longhorns were Brejae Washington and Taylor Thom. She wears No. 28 because that's how many miles it is from McCombs Field to her high school, Dripping Springs.
"We have a saying: 22 strong," Corona said. "We've got 22 girls on the roster. We're going to be 22 strong day in and day out and fight for each other."
Corona and the Longhorns (42-12) are now off to the super regionals. Texas will face Oklahoma State in Stillwater for a best-of-three series that begins Friday. In the 1-0 win over Oregon, Corona was credited with six defensive assists from third base and also started two double plays.
The first of those was a defining moment.
With one out in the fourth inning, Oregon had runners on first and third. After snagging a hard grounder off the bat of Alyssa Brito, Corona tagged Terra McGowan and then went to first base to preserve the 0-0 score.
"As soon as I saw the ball come to me, I saw in the corner of my eye the girl was right there," Corona said. "I knew JJ (Smith) would be at first and I just fired over there and turned it."
Texas coach Mike White said Corona, a redshirt freshman, didn't start the season as a candidate for playing time at third. She was given a chance at the position during the final series of the regular season as the Longhorns were looking for a defensive boost. The region-clinching win over Oregon was her 10th straight start.
Texas entered the NCAA Tournament with a fielding percentage that ranked 217th nationally. But in four games over the weekend, Texas committed just two errors.
"As much as hitting is contagious, errors can be contagious and so can great play," White said. "That just lifted this team. You know, we needed that spark plug."
The defense — as well as a run-scoring single in the fourth inning from pinch hitter Jordyn Whitaker — backed a strong pitching performance from Molly Jacobsen. The graduate transfer from Ole Miss allowed five hits and one walk. She struck out two.
In the final inning, Oregon got its first two batters on base. Jacobsen rallied with a strikeout before the game ended on two groundouts to Corona.
"I lean on my teammates a lot," Jacobsen said. "I knew that every single person out there had my back, and I just tried to breathe through it. God's got us and I'm a strong believer in that."
The final out of Texas' 42nd win came at 1:16 a.m. Monday. After beating Saint Francis on Friday and Texas State on Saturday, the Longhorns needed to beat Oregon just once on Sunday to advance. The Ducks, who had lost their opener to Texas State, had to win twice.
They were set to play at 3 p.m., but rainy weather pushed the first pitch back five hours. When the Ducks ended up winning in extra innings, it was decided to complete the regional as soon as possible. Texas and Oregon regrouped and got going again around 11:20 p.m.
A look at the game:Texas softball team blanks Texas State Bobcats 6-0 in NCAA Austin Regional
"I was actually advised to, and I never do this, is to create two plans," White said. "Plan A was if we won (the first game) and Plan B was if we lost. We kind of talked about it. If things came to it, we had to be ready for it."
Oregon (40-17) forced the decisive game with a 3-2 victory. McGowan's walk-off single in the eighth inning was the game winner.
"I loved the fight that they had the first game," Oregon coach Melyssa Lombardi said. "Loved how they came back. I mean, that's been the story of this team all year."
The Ducks had a chance to end that first game in regulation. But with Texas down to its last strike in the seventh inning, pinch-hitter Courtney Day tripled. That scored MK Tedder, who was pinch running for Whitaker. With two outs, Whitaker had contributed a pinch-hit single.