Thirty-two athletes will be competing for one of seventeen roster spots on the 2013 USA Softball Women’s National Team and two Texas Longhorns earned themselves an invitation.
Taylor Hoagland and Taylor Thom represented the University of Texas at the 2013 USA Softball Women’s Selection Camp, which was held June 10-12 at the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Hall of Fame Complex in Oklahoma City.
During a three-day selection process, the invited athletes competed in simulated games and position drills. The selected athletes will then represent the US in three separate events in Canada, Puerto Rico and the United States
Hoagland earned her third career invitation after a very successful senior season. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association First-Team All-American ended the season with the second-most walks per game among Division 1 players at 1.2. Hoagland made Longhorn history with the highest on-base percentage of .610, earning her the top spot in the history of the program and a third place ranking nationally. Hoagland was also an NFCA All-Central Region and All-Big 12 First-Team Honoree.
Thom earned her invitation after a junior campaign that set the Texas record for runs batted in with 66. Thom earned spots on both the NFCA All-Central Region and All-Big 12 First teams, while also earning a spot as an NFCA Third-Team All-American. Her 15 home runs placed her second on the program’s single season chart while managing to climb to third on the program’s list of runs in a season with 55.
Both Hoagland and Thom join a list of Longhorns who have been invited to participate. Lexy Bennett earned an invitation in 2012, Blaire Luna received an invitation in both 2010 and 2011 and Kat Osterman after earning invitations in both 2009 and 2010.
Camp selections will be made June 14, and the events of the camp will be open to the public and will also stream live on www.usasoftball.com.
The selected players will compete with the women’s national team to defend their world cup title at the World Cup of Softball VIII, July 11-14, in Oklahoma City.
The Women’s College World Series may be an unfamiliar place for Texas, but Arizona State is not an unfamiliar opponent.
The Longhorns played the Sun Devils once this year, falling to ASU, 3-0, in their first game at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. back in March. Junior Dallas Escobedo, who led Arizona State to a national title as a freshman in 2011, tossed a three-hit shutout in that game.
“Dallas Escobedo, she has a great rise ball. She’s a great pitcher,” senior Taylor Hoagland said. “She’s been there before. That’s one thing they have on us is experience but that doesn’t matter. It could be anybody’s game at any point in time so we’re really excited.”
Hoagland is one of four seniors – the others being pitcher Blaire Luna, outfielder Torie Schmidt and utility player Kim Bruins – on this Longhorns squad, which is making its first trip to Oklahoma City since 2006. Texas was bounced out of the Regionals in 2010 and 2011 before falling to Oregon in the Super Regionals last year in heartbreaking fashion.
But the Longhorns, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, are back at the WCWS for the first time since Cat Osterman toed the rubber for them. They will face the Sun Devils, the No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City on Thursday at 6 p.m. The winner will play either top-seeded Oklahoma or No. 8 seed Michigan on Friday night.
Just because they haven’t been there in a while doesn’t mean they didn’t expect to be there this season.
“Every single year,” head coach Connie Clark said. “I don’t really think it’s ego. I think you should have that expectation every year as a coach. Anything less is a disappointment for us. When we hit the recruiting trail, we sell that and we talk about it. It’s not lip service. We need to get the type of student-athletes that can take us there every year.”
Luna has been very sharp this postseason, going 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA in 29 innings. She capped off Texas’ Super Regional series win over Florida State by throwing her eighth career no-hitter – the first during the postseason – while striking out 13 and walking only one. Luna goes into the WCWS as arguably the hottest pitcher in the eight-team field.
“It’s definitely our time,” Luna said. “We’ve played some of those teams and we’ve kept up with them. We took one from Oklahoma, we beat Washington and the Arizona State game was a close one. I definitely think we have all the key factors.”
Luna was one of three Texas players who were named AFCA All-Americans this week. Luna and Hoagland were named first-team All-Americans while shortstop Taylor Thom, who hit a two-run home run in Sunday’s 4-0 win over the Seminoles, was named a third-team All-American.
“We’re peaking right now,” Thom said. “The World Series is a totally different atmosphere. It’s just going to be an amazing feeling.”
Texas is making its fifth trip to the WCWS. Its last WCWS win was a 2-0 victory in its 2006 opener at Oklahoma City – against Arizona State.
When junior catcher Mandy Ogle threw out her tenth base-stealer this season against Oklahoma last weekend, she was on a roll. No. 7 Texas had topped its first No. 1 team since 2006, and as the seventh inning came around, it looked to steal the series. Taylor Hoagland and Brejae Washington strikeouts left Texas runs away from the goal. But Ogle wasn’t going to focus on the past.
“Losing this hits us all pretty hard,” Ogle said. “But I think it’s going to light a fire underneath us and we’re going to come out next weekend and work hard.”
The Longhorns (42-6, 12-2) did just that in a three-game sweep against Texas Tech (29-24, 3-12) this weekend. Ogle’s fire propelled her to go 4-for-9 with a team-high five RBIs against the Red Raiders. She also caught two more stealing this weekend, totaling four tags in the last five contests.
Taylor Thom and Hoagland powered the offense Friday, accounting for five runs, five stolen bases and four hits. In the circle, ace pitcher Blaire Luna allowed only one hit in the first five innings. Paired with a four-run fifth inning, Texas led 8-0 when Holly Kern took the mound for Luna. But Kern nearly allowed the Red Raiders to tie the game, allowing six runs on five hits in the bottom of the sixth inning. Luna reentered in the seventh to retire the Red Raiders in order.
Saturday went more smoothly, as Kim Bruins allowed just one run off four hits for a complete game. A three-tiered Texas Tech staff couldn’t keep the Longhorns at bay — most notably Hoagland homers in the first and third innings. En route to a 4-1 victory, Washington scored as well on a two-for-three day to keep the top of the lineup strong.
Closing out Sunday, the Longhorns combined their weekend efforts for many repeats. Luna again struck out 10 as the Longhorns capitalized in the fifth for another 4-1 victory. But beyond the numbers, Texas reasserted itself as a Big 12 powerhouse after a tough weekend. Hoagland extended her on-base streak to 56-straight games with a .639 on-base percentage this season, while Luna joined Cat Osterman as the only Texas pitchers to fan 300 a season in three seasons.
One thing that this Texas team has rarely had a problem with this season is offensive production.
The Longhorns, who recently boosted their conference record to 12-2, have consistently had no trouble with their bats as they continue to power past opponents.
Senior Taylor Hoagland leads her team at the plate with a .443 batting average and an on-base percentage (.639) that is on track to break the single season record for UT and the Big 12.
In addition, junior Karina Scott has recently stepped up her offensive production to provide the power Texas needs nearing post-season play. In the month of April, Scott has a batting average of .500, which leads her team, and has tallied two home runs and nine RBIs.
“In this game, you need confidence,” Scott said. “Once I put some good at-bats together, I started to get that confidence. I am starting to do what I am capable of and what the team knows I am capable of, and know I just need to keep going.”
This strong play is one of the main keys that Texas will need in order to complete their goal of a Women’s College World Series appearance.
The team has missed a chance to play in the WCWS each year since 2006 and after being only a game away from that chance last season, motivation has set in.
The Longhorns have scored 16 runs in the past three games during their most recent sweep of Texas Tech this past weekend.
Veteran leadership established the momentum as two seniors were a main source of the offensive production for the Longhorns. Hoagland grabbed four hits and five runs in the series while senior Torie Schmidt tallied three hits in her four at bats on Sunday to help grab the final win.
“It’s really exciting seeing what this offense can do. It feels like every time the opponent scores, we come back with three more,” Hoagland said. “It’s just really great, and especially for the pitching staff so they know that they have the offense backing them up.”
The Longhorns only have four more games before they start their journey to the WCWS. These games will help determine the momentum that the team will have as it fights to be the best in the nation.
This offensive consistency, needless to say, is extremely important to the continued success the team has had. While the pitching staff and defense for the Longhorns has been extremely strong, many games have been decided by just a few runs and this power at the plate will help keep these wins pouring in for the Longhorns.
Game One: When Keilani Ricketts stepped onto McCombs Field Friday, she was ready to show No. 6 Texas why her team is No. 1. Karina Scott’s home run in the second was enough to tie the game but nothing else. Blaire Luna started, giving up four runs on four hits and six walks. After the Sooners drove in three runs against Luna in the third, Holly Kern took the mound to finish. Texas’ only remaining offensive threat came with a bases-loaded Taylor Thom at-bat in the seventh, but Thom struck out swinging as OU won, 6-1.
Game Two: Luna’s eight strikeouts Saturday stifled the Sooners offense as Texas rallied back for its first win over a No. 1 opponent since 2006. Taylor Hoagland scored on an error for an early first-inning lead and furthered the advantage off Taylor Thom’s two-run single in the fourth. Oklahoma shrunk the gap with a Georgia Casey homer, but after Ricketts came home in the seventh, catcher Mandy Ogle tagged out Jessica Shults at the plate to secure the 4-2 win.
Game Three: In a game befitting of a top-10 matchup, the first inning of Sunday’s series finale featured a two-out home run from each team. But a Luna error allowed Oklahoma to score a second run as well, as the team in crimson and cream took a lead they wouldn’t lose. The game kept fans on edge as the Texas defense dispelled threats in each of the next three innings. Thom matched Shelby Pendley’s second home run in the sixth to bring in Hoagland, who tripled. Down 5-2 in the seventh, the Longhorns notched one more run before Hoagland’s bases-loaded pop and Brejae Washington’s ensuing game-ending strikeout left the squad brimming with disappointment.
.633: Even though she only reached base once Sunday, Hoagland’s is on pace to far surpass both the school and Big 12 single-season on-base percentage records.
3621: The combined attendance for the weekend’s matches. As most season games have attracted closer to 500, the rowdy and spirited stands fueled the Longhorns’ spirits against a long-time rival.
Shortstop Taylor Thom: Whether on the field or at the plate, Taylor Thom was a strong vocal presence at McCombs Field this weekend. She didn’t let the Red River Rivalry hype get to her as she connected on hits in each of the weekend’s matches. Thom hit a home run in the first Sunday as part of her weekend .500 average (4-for-8) and four RBIs brought her single-season count to 50, tied for the second-most in program history.
The No. 6 Longhorns dropped two of three to the No. 1 Sooners at packed Red and Charline McComb’s field this weekend.
After losing the opener 6-1, the Longhorns bounced back on Saturday to even the series with a 4-2 win, which left the series to be decided in the rubber match Sunday.
After playing with fire and getting through the first four innings of that rubber match with just two runs given, Blaire Luna finally allowed the big hit. With the Sooners up 2-1 in the fifth, Brittany Williams delivered the back-breaking two-out, two-run double to break the game open. One inning later, Shelby Pendley added her second homer of the game to take the air out of the crowd.
With a four-run lead and last year’s player of the year Keilani Ricketts dealing, it looked as though the game and the series were over.
But that’s not the way the Longhorns saw it.
“Our team gathered some momentum late in the game,” assistant coach Corrie Hill said. “The spark in our dugout was great. The chatter was great. There was talk about comebacks we had in the past.”
After one run in the sixth, the Longhorns staged a furious rally in the seventh against arguably the game’s best pitcher. Karina Scott got hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and Kim Bruins followed that with a single. After a fielder’s choice, Torie Schmidt singled in a run, cutting the deficit to two and chasing Ricketts for Michelle Gascoigne.
Pinch hitter Erin Shireman walked to load the bases for the team’s best hitter — Taylor Hoagland.
The players got out of the dugout and began leading the crowd in Texas Fight. The crowd was back into the game.
With a full count, Hoagland saw a pitched she liked, jumped on it and just missed.
“I have hit that ball 7 million times, and this time it wasn’t in my favor,” Hoagland said. “It’s an awful feeling, similar to that last year against Oregon.”
That left it all up to Brejae Washington.
But she struck out to the end the game in disappointing fashion.
“It’s always disappointing to lose a game like that,” Hoagland said. “But we can only learn from it.”
The loss sends the Longhorns to 39-6 overall and 9-2 in conference. Oklahoma has a full game lead in the division and owns the tiebreaker now, making it very difficult for the Longhorns to claim their first Big 12 championship since 2010.
However, the loss doesn’t crush the hopes for the Longhorns as they still plan on playing deep into the year.
“We plan on being in Oklahoma City for the World Series, standing right next to Oklahoma,” assistant coach Corrie Hill said.
With Lexy Bennett’s graduation, there was a glaring hole at second base.
Someone had to follow the all-time Texas leader in batting average, runs scored, RBIs, on-base percentage, and hits. But no one expected the replacement to match Bennett’s numbers.
With 42 games under her belt, freshman Stephanie Ceo is starting to make a name for herself.
Ceo is hitting a staggering .414 this year. And while most players pad their numbers while beating up on weaker opponents, Ceo is actually better against better competition. In conference play, she is batting .474 — a team best.
Ceo, though, is still no Bennett, who was arguably the best to ever step up to the plate in a Texas uniform. But Ceo is doing an outstanding job of filling the hole Bennett left.
The numbers are pretty close. Ceo’s average is only 0.008 lower than Bennett’s was her senior year. Her fielding percentage is just 0.025 off. And Ceo is on pace for more stolen bases.
Still, this is Ceo’s freshman year. The only big difference in the two comes in the power game and in leadership.
But No. 6 Texas doesn’t need Ceo to hit for power. They need her to get on base and set up the power hitters like on-base guru Taylor Hoagland.
And that’s exactly what she is doing.
Just look at her first conference game, a nine-inning affair against Baylor. It was Ceo’s single that started the ninth. And it was Ceo’s run that proved to be the game-winner. Head coach Connie Clark has taken notice.
“I actually felt like the table-setting in the ninth was amazing,” Clark said after the Baylor game. “It was tremendous to see Ceo lead off that inning with a hit.”
Now, with top ranked Oklahoma (37-2) coming to town this weekend, Clark is really going to need Ceo to set the table and help Texas extend their 15 game-win streak.
While the Longhorns have one of the most dominant pitcher-hitter duos in Blaire Luna and Taylor Hoagland, Oklahoma may even have a better one in Keilani Ricketts and Laura Chamberlain.
Ricketts is fresh off a season that saw her national player of the year honors and is near the top of most statistical categories, including an NCAA-best 14 shutouts. She’s a big reason why the Sooners boast a 1.07 team ERA, the lowest in the nation. Chamberlain is putting up absolutely ridiculous numbers at the plate, leading the nation in home runs with 21 while hitting .472, the best in the Big 12 among those with at least 10 at-bats this year.
Texas’ 1.47 team ERA is the fourth best in the country while it boasts a .342 batting average, the ninth-best in the nation. Oklahoma is hitting .333 as a team this season, the country’s 16th-best mark.
“We match up tremendously with them,” Clark said. “It will be two great teams with two great pitchers going at it. We are similar in many ways. I am glad that we are on our field for this match-up.”
Both teams are currently undefeated in conference play, meaning that whoever takes this three-game series has the fast track in the race for the Big 12 regular season championship.
The players can’t mask their excitement.
“I cannot wait for the game against Oklahoma,” Taylor Thom said. “They are a great ball club. This week cannot go by fast enough.”
If there is ever a time to come out to Red and Charline McCombs field, it is this weekend.
“There is no way that they can just go through the motions,” Clark said. “They will be hungry and fired up with some great intensity.”
Friday: W, 8-0
Blaire Luna’s 100th career victory couldn’t have gone any better. She recorded her second straight no-hitter while striking out 11 to blank Iowa State, 8-0, in the series opener. While the senior took control in the circle, a freshman, Erin Shireman, provided the offense. No. 6 Texas scored three in the second to get off to an early lead and never looked back. Shireman collected three RBIs in the game to spark the offense. Taylor Thom and Torie Schmidt each recorded three hits in the game as well.
Saturday: W, 12-4
After getting off to an early two-run deficit, the Longhorns quickly erased it with a program record-tying nine runs in the bottom of the first en route to a 12-4 victory. Senior Taylor Hoagland led the inning off by drawing a walk and hit her second grand slam of the year later in the frame. Shireman continued her hot-hitting series with a 3-for-3 day and two RBIs. Once the Longhorns jumped out to a 9-2 advantage, there was no turning back. The Cyclones cut the lead to 9-4 in the top of the fifth, but the Longhorns responded with three runs of their own in the bottom half to cap the scoring. Despite a rough start, Kim Bruins improved to 8-0 on the season with the complete-game victory.
Sunday: W, 7-2
With Luna back in the circle, Texas concluded its weekend sweep of the Cyclones. Luna’s 11 strikeouts highlighted an effort that, by far, bested that of Iowa State pitching staff’s, which combined for just one. The Cyclones drew first blood again, pushing a run across in the second inning but Texas, led by Thom, Bruins and Hoagland, easily erased that deficit as well.
By the numbers:
56—Taylor Hoagland’s walks this season. With her three walks Sunday, Hoagland broke the single-season Big 12 record set by Texas A&M’s Meagan May last year.
77—Number of consecutive batters Blaire Luna faced without allowing a hit, until Sara Davison’s second-inning single Sunday.
.625—Freshman Erin Shireman’s batting average for the series. Shireman got a base hit in each of her three at-bats in Saturday’s contest.
The No. 6 Longhorns swept Iowa State (18-22, 3-6) this week to improve to 38-4, remain undefeated in conference play and extend their winning streak to 15 games.
Blaire Luna opened the series Friday by tossing her second consecutive no-hitter in an 8-0 victory over the Cyclones. It was Luna’s 100th career win as the senior All-American fanned 11 in five innings but the Texas offense contributed just as strongly. The team swiped seven bases and scored eight runs, led by three hits apiece from Taylor Thom and Torie Schmidt. Closing out the fourth, Erin Shireman singled to right, driving in her third batter of the night.
“[Shireman] has become more selective at the plate and is getting a better understanding of hitting with certain counts,” head coach Connie Clark said. “She is doing a great job of advancing runners, doing the little things we know she can do.”
Kim Bruins took the mound Saturday and got off to a shaky start but managed to pick up her eighth win this season, a career high. The Cyclones scored on the opening play of the game, when Bruins and Shireman each committed throwing errors on a Brittany Gomez leadoff single. Erica Miller’s RBI double later in the frame gave Iowa State an early 2-0 lead.
But Taylor Hoagland helped Texas erase that deficit in a hurry. After her Big 12-leading 52nd walk preceded five Longhorn runs, Hoagland stepped back up with the bases loaded and crushed a grand slam. Three scoreless innings followed before the Cyclones shrunk the lead to 9-4 at the top of the fifth. Texas responded with three to secure their 12th run-rule victory of the season.
“I think we had some miscommunication in the first inning and then we realized we needed to get it under control,” Hoagland said. “We needed to change the momentum and that’s what we did with our nine runs. I’m glad we had an answer for everything in that game.”
Sunday wasn’t quite as solid of an effort, but Texas still pulled off a 7-2 win. Luna struck out 11, allowing four hits, five walks and two runs. Texas drew six walks and got five of their seven runs from Thom and Hoagland.
“It was a grind today but for the third day of the series, it was good we finished it out and found the outcome we were looking for,” Clark said. “It’s not necessarily about how you start it, it’s about how you finish.”