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.