Taylor Thom

In the first two games of the series, the battle between Texas and Baylor was focused mainly on the pitchers. But in the final home game of her career and the last game of the season, senior shortstop Taylor Thom placed the spotlight on herself.

With the game tied at two in the bottom of the seventh and senior centerfielder Brejae Washington at first, Thom lined a doubled to right-center field to score Washington and give the Longhorns a 3-2 win over the Bears on Senior Day.

“It couldn’t have been scripted any better,” head coach Connie Clark said.

The game, as it has been any time Texas and Baylor play each other in softball, was a pitcher’s duel between the Longhorns’ freshman ace Tiarra Davis and the Bears’ senior ace Whitney Canion. After giving up runs in each of the last two innings in a loss against the Bears Tuesday night, Davis allowed only one run through the first four innings, mainly thanks to her control of the change up.

“Every day that we had from Tuesday to now, we spent working on [the change up],” Davis said. “It felt great to have it.”

Meanwhile, it was Canion who blinked first in the duel. In the second inning, the first two batters reached base and senior catcher Mandy Ogle laced a double to right-center field to score a run. Freshman left fielder Stephanie Wong then hit a sacrifice fly to up the Texas lead to 2-0.

But the Bears would chip away at that lead, scoring a run in the third on an RBI single by senior first baseman Holly Holl. Then in the fifth with a runner on base, Washington misplayed a single by freshman second baseman Ari Hawkins to center, which allowed a run to score to tie the game and Hawkins to reach third base. The Bears almost took the lead on a sacrifice fly from the next batter, but Hawkins was caught leaving third early to end the inning.

After a scoreless sixth, Baylor again threatened with two runners reaching base with two outs, including a single that bounced off the face of freshman third baseman Devon Tunning. Despite being down for multiple minutes and a bevy of trainers and coaches around her, Tunning stayed in the game.

“That was a shot,” Clark said. “Devon was tough through all of that and I’m proud of her tenacity and mental toughness.”

After a pop out ended the top half of the inning, the bottom of the seventh inning was set up perfectly for the Longhorns. Washington, sophomore right fielder Lindsey Stephens and Thom were due up. Then Washington reached on a signature bunt base hit to lead off the inning and after Stephens popped out, Thom took to the plate.

“You have to want that moment and I want that moment just as much as anybody else,” Thom said.

Thom took hold of that moment, lining a ball in a gap that Baylor had given her in right-center field which Washington scored easily on to give Texas the walk off win in the seniors’ last game at McCombs Field.

“I’m sad to say that that’s my last game here, but it was a great way to end [the game],” Thom said.

The four seniors on the team—Thom, Washington, Ogle and first baseman Karina Scott—leave the program with a record of 177-54 and a Women’s College World Series appearance, though those aren’t quite final numbers yet for the class.

Six hours after the game ended, the Longhorns learned that they are headed for a tenth-straight NCAA tournament. Texas will join Mississippi State, Louisiana at Lafayette and Texas Southern in the Lafayette Regional. Earlier this season, the Longhorns beat both ULL and Texas Southern twice in tournament play.

That, along with the momentum from the walk off win over Baylor, gives Thom hope that this team can make a run in the postseason.

“We have to keep pitching like Tiarra did today and we have to score runs and have great defense and I think we’re going to be great,” Thom said.

Senior catcher Mandy Ogle, pictured here against Texas Tech on April 6, hit a game-winning two-run home run Friday against Iowa State. Texas hit eight home runs against the Cyclones over the weekend. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

A three-game series against conference bottom dweller Iowa State was just what the Texas offense, which has struggled at times to score with runners on base, needed.

The Longhorns pounded 38 hits — eight of which left the park — and scored 38 runs in an easy sweep of the Cyclones on Friday and Saturday.

Texas (26-16, 6-1 Big 12) got off to a fast start in the first game of a doubleheader Friday, scoring in every inning of the contest. The Longhorns broke the game open in the second inning. After the first three batters reached base, sophomore right fielder Lindsey Stephens singled to right to score a run, and senior shortstop Taylor Thom cleared the bases with a grand slam over the center field wall to put Texas up 6-0.

Texas capped off an eight-run second to take a commanding 9-0 lead. After the Cyclones (18-21, 1-8 Big 12) cut the Longhorns’ lead to eight in the bottom of the fourth, Stephens belted a three-run homer — her second of the game — to put Texas up 17-6 en route to a 19-6 win in game one.

The second game of the doubleheader would be a much different story. Texas’ freshman pitcher Tiarra Davis and Iowa State’s junior pitcher Paris Imholz kept the bats silenced for much of the game. Davis, who pitched only in the first inning of the first game, allowed just three hits and got out of a tight jam in the sixth with a runner at third to preserve the scoreless tie.

Senior catcher Mandy Ogle became the hero of the game, hitting a two-run home run to center, which proved to be the game-winner.

With their second Big 12 series of the season clinched, the Longhorns returned to their first-game form in the series finale Saturday. After the first two batters of the game reached base, Thom lined a triple to right field and then scored on a Davis ground out to give Texas an early 3-0 lead.

The long ball continued to fly for the Longhorns as sophomore second baseman Stephanie Ceo hit a two-run shot in the second inning, and then, in the fourth, Thom hit her second of the series followed by a three-run blast from senior first baseman Karina Scott.

Meanwhile, Davis continued from where she left off, limiting Iowa State to only four hits in the game and allowing only one run as the Longhorns finished the sweep with a 17-1 win.

The series sweep was the ninth straight time the Longhorns have swept the Cyclones.

With the three wins, Texas sits in second place in the Big 12 standings, three games behind Oklahoma, which won two out of three against Baylor this weekend. The Sooners and Longhorns face off in a three-game series beginning Thursday that could decide the Big 12 champion.

Sophomore outfielder Lindsey Stephens rounds the bases after hitting a home run against Texas State. After riding the bench much of last season, Stephens is having a breakout year, having smashed 11 home runs — more than twice as much as any other Longhorn. 

Photo Credit: Michelle Toussaint | Daily Texan Staff

Senior shortstop Taylor Thom had a career night Wednesday, launching two home runs, including a grand slam, and plating seven RBIs in a 19-7 win against Texas State.

After a stellar junior season, this year hasn’t been as kind to Thom, who had just three home runs and 21 RBIs on the season entering Wednesday night’s game.

“It felt like my old self,” Thom said. “I have been struggling this year, so for me to put together a game like that going into Big 12 — that’s a great feeling.”

With a weekend off from Big 12 play, the threat of a slow start seemed like a real possibility for the Longhorns, especially with an offense that at times has struggled to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities.

But Texas got things going early in the game against Texas State. After the first two runners reached base, Thom belted a three-run home run to left. In the second inning, the Longhorns capitalized on three Texas State errors — the biggest being a bobble by Texas State left fielder Lexi Fryar that allowed three runs to score — scoring six runs in the inning.

In the third, freshman third baseman Devon Tunning hit her first career home run and sophomore right fielder Lindsey Stephens hit a deep shot to dead center.

Thom then added to the home run barrage again with a two-out grand slam to deep right-center field to put the Longhorns up 18-7.

Despite Texas’ strong offensive output, Texas State battled back, taking advantage of Longhorn mistakes to stay in the game. After only managing two hits through the first two innings, the Bobcats scored five in the top of the third, forcing out freshman pitcher Tiarra Davis — who had only allowed three runs in her last four starts — after only 2.1 innings.

Texas will resume conference play Friday at home against Texas Tech.

The Longhorns opened the 2014 season with a bang, blasting two home runs en route to a 6-1 victory over then-No. 17 LSU Tigers. Senior shortstop Taylor Thom went the distance in the top of the third inning, clearing the left field fence to put Texas ahead 5-1 and extending her career home run mark to 29.  

“Thom made a very nice adjustment at bat,” head coach Connie Clark said. “She was really looking for one pitch and I kept seeing them working her in one location, and she met her time.”

Sophomore utility player Lindsey Stephens opened the sixth inning with a leadoff home run to expand Texas’ lead to five. Junior pitcher Gabby Smith had a strong outing in the circle for the No. 10 Longhorns, pitching a complete game on 99 pitches while striking out two. Smith was the frontrunner to be the ace coming into Thursday’s opener.  

Clark’s squad continued its hot offensive streak when Texas next took the field against North Carolina in the 28th Annual Louisiana Classic. Freshman pitcher Lauren Slatten got the start and delivered six innings for the Longhorns, surrendering three runs on four hits while striking out one and walking two — a solid performance for the right-handed rookie.  

Against No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette, senior outfielder Brejae Washington headed a comeback as she scored five runs on 4-for-8 hitting to compensate for five first-inning runs surrendered to the Ragin’ Cajuns.  Texas’ current leader in stolen bases, Washington added four on the day to raise her career mark to 101. Thom rounded out Washington’s success with another monster performance at the plate, producing a team-high five hits in eight appearances. 

Texas’ rematch with Louisiana-Lafayette was more than just Texas’ fourth straight victory. It also marked Clark’s 700th career win. A day after narrowly beating the host team, the Longhorns handed the Cajuns their second loss in as many days. Stephens belted a three-run home run — her third of the year — to grab a lead the Longhorns would never forfeit. Gabby Smith, still undefeated as a starter, earned the 7-3 win.  

But Saturday’s slate of games closed with the Longhorns’ first loss of the season. Texas fell 6-3 to Northern Iowa after the Panthers exploded for six first-inning runs off of sophomore pitcher Holly Kern.

Still shaky from its first loss, Texas again dropped its Sunday match 5-4. Texas posed a late threat in the fifth to bring the score within one but only managed to strand its first two runners on base. Sophomore Erin Shireman hit her third home run of the season to tie Stephens for the team lead.

Texas will open its home season Wednesday as it hosts UTSA.    

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Texas’ nonconference schedule looks similar to the way its season ended last year — a long slate of road games against tough teams. 

The Longhorns will open up the season on the road for the first time since 2007, taking on No. 19 LSU in Baton Rouge on Thursday. From there, they’ll head to Lafayette to play North Carolina and then No. 15 Louisiana-Lafayette twice.

“We always play a really difficult nonconference schedule,” head coach Connie Clark said. “It prepares and challenges us so that, when we get to conference and postseason, we feel that we have been there before.” 

Texas will face six teams ranked in the preseason ESPN.com rankings, including two contests with No. 5 Washington, as well as facing three teams that received votes in the poll.

Four out of the five tournaments for the Longhorns will feature at least one ranked opponent. The Judi Garman Classic will be the toughest tournament, with Texas running up against Washington, No. 4 Michigan and No. 7 Arizona State. 

Even coming off of a College World Series run, Clark expects her young team to experience some growing pains during the difficult stretch.

“We may go out and dominate early, get a false sense of how good they think they are and then get thumped later on,” Clark said.

But Texas is no slouch coming into the season. Despite losing both Blaire Luna and Taylor Hoagland and bringing in seven freshmen, the Longhorns are ranked 10th and senior shortstop Taylor Thom, who played with the U.S. National team over the summer, said it’s something they’re embracing.

“I think we all are excited about the ranking and excited to prove that we are in the top 10,” Thom said.

Texas is also coming off of its first College World Series visit since 2006, and senior catcher Mandy Ogle said knowing what it takes to get there will help them with this tough stretch.

“You always talk about what you actually need, but, by actually being there, I think it’ll be easier to get back to it,” Ogle said. “We know what it felt like and we just want to get back there again.”

The development opportunities that come with playing a tough schedule should pay off when Big 12 play starts in March, especially with the conference being wide open. Oklahoma lost a couple of its starters, including pitcher Keilani Ricketts, leaving Baylor with the most experienced pitching staff in the conference.

Thom said that the difficult nonconference schedule will help them gain consistency, especially with a younger team.

“I think, right now, since we do have a lot of young faces, we aren’t very consistent,” Thom said. “So if we can get through this preseason and work on our consistency, we’ll be better off in the Big 12.”

But getting through the tough nonconference schedule and into conference play will be the test for the Longhorns early on. With difficult opponents and a young team, senior Brejae Washington expects this year to be a challenge. 

“I think it’s going to be something different that we aren’t used to,” Washington said.

Senior Taylor Thom is the unquestioned leader of this year's Longhorn squad. Texas will rely on Thom's big bat to drive in runs on the field, and, with three years of collegiate experience, expert her to mentor some of the younger players. 

Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber | Daily Texan Staff

As a junior at Vista Ridge high school in Cedar Park, Taylor Thom led her team to the 2009 UIL State Semifinal game at Red McCombs Field in Austin. The Lady Rangers lost 3-0 to Pearland in a close contest.

Fast-forward four years to 2013 when Thom found herself in the postseason at the College World Series in a semifinal matchup against No. 1 Oklahoma. The Longhorns would lose that game 10-2 to the Sooners, who would go on to beat Tennessee and become the World Series champions. 

“Going to the World Series is still my favorite team memory,” Thom said.

Now, preparing for her final campaign as a Longhorn, Thom looks to build on a record-setting junior season with a new supporting cast of young faces. One of just four seniors on a team that includes 13 underclassmen, Thom is the undisputed veteran with more experience to speak of than several other players combined. This past summer, Thom was a member of the 2013 USA Women’s National Team, where she competed on the international stage — as well as in the World Cup — with former teammate Taylor Hoagland. 

“It was amazing getting to play with such incredible softball players,” Thom said. “Traveling all over the country and the world. It was such a great experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

Recently named to the preseason Top 50 “Watch List” for the 2014 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award, Thom ranks near the top in nearly every major category in the Texas records book. She currently sits fourth in runs batted in (135), seventh in doubles (37), eighth in runs scored (122) and ninth in home runs (28). In her final year as a Longhorn, Thom will look to match her historic senior season at Vista Ridge where she posted a .528 batting average with 50 runs scored, 21 runs batted in, 15 doubles and 34 stolen bases.

Coming off a team-high 15-home-run season, the hard-hitting shortstop has the ability to change the game with one swing of the bat and is always a threat at the plate. 

Perhaps the most decorated player on the team, Thom is confident about the prospects of this year’s group.

“We definitely lost some key players last year, but we have some good ones that are going to be able and come in and fill that hole that needs to be filled,” Thom said. “I think we are looking great and I am excited to see how our first game against LSU goes.”

Whether the Longhorns can return to the World Series remains to be seen, as a tough conference schedule — which includes No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 16 Baylor — lies ahead. But if Thom’s senior year at Vista Ridge is any indication, her best season is still ahead of her.  

Taylor Hoagland left Texas as the school’s career leader in home runs (58), runs (221), walks (178), on-base percentage (.501) and slugging percentage (.708).

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff
Texas Women's Softball standouts Taylor Thom and Taylor Hoagland have been selected to play for the 2013 USA Women’s National Team. The decision was announced early Friday afternoon by USA Softball and the Amateur Softball Association.
 
Both are coming off a successful Texas season which saw the Longhorns make their third trip in program history to the Women's College World Series semifinal and their highest post-season ranking, finishing No. 3 in both the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association and ESPN.com/USA Softball final polls. The ranking from the NFCA is the highest Texas has ever been in the organization's final poll, while the mark is tied with the 2006 squad for the highest in the last USA Softball poll.
 
Hoagland's second USA roster selection after three invitations will finalize what was an outstanding career as a Longhorn while Thom, a junior, will be playing with the national team for the first time, before returning for her senior season at Texas.
 
The USA women's softball team will begin play for the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City on July 11-14, before competing in events throughout the summer in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.

A year later, Super Regional disappointment fresh in Texas' mind as it eyes first WCWS berth since 2006

It's time. They can feel it. 

Last year was heartbreaking. But something in the air tells them this year will be different.

Oregon denied Texas a chance to reach the Women's College World Series for the first time since 2006 when the Ducks took the final two games of last year's Super Regional against the Longhorns. The softball team came back this year, earned a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and made it through the Regionals without a loss for the first time since its last run to Oklahoma City seven seasons ago. 

"There's a difference between this team and last year's team," outfielder Brejae Washington said. "Last year we kind of peaked a little early and we didn't have the depth in our lineup that was all on one page. I think this year, toward the end of the year, everyone is hitting as one unit and that's made a difference."

Texas cruised to a 4-2 win over Oregon in Game 1 of last year's Super Regional series, hosted by the Longhorns, and took a 4-3 lead into the fifth inning of Game 2. But an unearned run in that frame tied the game and a sacrifice fly in extras won it for Oregon. 

A six-run second inning by the Ducks in the decisive Game 3 helped send them to Oklahoma City with a 10-6 victory. Just like that, Texas' season was over. 

"To watch someone else celebrate on your field, it sucks," shortstop Taylor Thom said. "We don't want that to happen again. It's definitely put a fuel in our fire."

Thom did her part to give the Longhorns another chance to clinch a spot in the WCWS during last weekend's Regionals. She hit .556 in Texas' three wins while hitting two home runs, including a grand slam, and driving all six of Texas' runs in a Regionals-clinching 6-0 win over South Carolina on Sunday.

Now, the Longhorns once again host a Super Regional, facing Florida State this time, beginning Friday night at 8 p.m. 

"It's fresh in our mind," head coach Connie Clark said of last year's Super Regional loss to Oregon. "It's a little different feel than last year. I don't know if the pain is still there and you can feel it. It just slipped through last year. I thought it was a tremendous matchup with us and a great Oregon club. If you couldn't pick us to win a national championship this year, I think it'll be Oregon. That's how good that program is."

Last year, Texas went into the Super Regional round with a record 46-11, going 25-3 at home. Now the Longhorns are 47-8 with a 27-3 record at home. Blaire Luna is still the ace. She's still dominant, to the tune of a 28-5 record and 1.17 ERA this year. The Longhorns remain potent on offense, hitting .330 as a team and scoring 6.1 runs per game - the second-most in school history, behind only the 6.2 runs per game they scored last season.

"It's inevitable," Taylor Hoagland, who has a team-best .444 batting average and .626 on-base percentage, said. "People are going to talk about the past. Just to bring it up and know we were so close, just one game away, is going to be the fuel to our fire. I don't think any of us seniors want to feel like that again."

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.

—Jori Epstein

.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.

Stock Up: 

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.

Senior Taylor Hoagland rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam in Saturday afternoon’s 12-4 victory against Iowa State. 

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez | Daily Texan Staff

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.