When the No. 4 Longhorns stepped onto the Women’s College World Series field in Oklahoma City, they didn’t expect anything, other than the weather, to be a breeze. Arizona State had shutout the squad 3-0 in March and a host of Sun Devils remained from the 2011 championship team. Each team was a “great ball club”, as head coach Connie Clark put it. But something among the burnt orange felt different en route to the Longhorns’ 6-3 victory.
“Coming off of yesterday’s practice, we were just a little bit nervous,” Clark said. “They kept assuring me today that they were ready to go and feeling good. They were loose and looked like the Texas team that I knew and did a tremendous job.”
Showcasing fierce pitching, starters Blaire Luna (31-5) and Sun Devil Dallas Escobedo (30-5) maintained four scoreless, hitless innings to open their series debut. As Luna allowed a leadoff walk before striking out eight in the four innings, Texas’ power hitters sought to pull ahead. In the second inning, Kim Bruins even smacked the ball over the fence and into the glove of left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio, who reached above the fence to grab the almost home run.
“I hit it and I thought it was going to be a flyout, but the wind kept pushing and pushing it,” Bruins said. “Then I saw her reach over and just snag it.”
A Bruins popout in the third stranded Brejae Washington and Taylor Thom after walks to send the Longhorns into the fifth with the game still at 0-0.
When Caporuscio singled to right in the fifth, the first hit of the game released a contagion of offensive production. Alix Johnson’s two-run double bounced off the fence for the scoreboard’s first tallies, but the Longhorns didn’t waste any time.
Ready for a characteristic two-out explosion, Thom’s RBI double paired with a Sun Devil error to bring home Washington and Stephanie Ceo. Prior to this game, 36.9 percent of Texas’ season runs came with two outs. Bruins then reclaimed the homer Caporuscio robbed her of in the second as the ball tipped off the left fielder’s glove and out of the park, to finish the inning up 4-2.
“It was so intense,” Bruins said. “I was seeing [Escobedo] pretty well all night, so I was just hoping to go put something into play and it fell in my favor. [The softball gods] just evened it out for me, they threw me a bone.”
But the powers that be didn’t hand a victory to the Longhorns with ease. The sixth inning sent Texas on an emotional rollercoaster as Haley Steele smashed a homer, before Luna struck out her 10th batter of the game and 1400th of her career.
After Ceo and Hoagland connected to send home teammates for a 6 -4 lead, Clark made a big decision entering the seventh. Knowing Arizona State head coach Clint Myers was calling Luna’s pitches to give his batters a heads up, she rotated Bruins into the circle.
“If you’ve seen Luna and you know her, she is about as good as anybody in the country when the bases are loaded so it’s tough,” Clark said. “But Bruins has been ready. They were two of the most patient hitters, and the timing was right to make a move. [Bruins] brought a different look to them and did a great job.”
Bruins struck out the first two batters, but big hitter Amber Freeman singled down the right field line to advance Cheyenne Coyle to third. Steele stepped back up to the plate and connected on another pitch, but this time Hoagland caught it to secure the win.
“We came out and attacked,” Clark said. “But I like it more mentally than physically. We’ll be ready to play tomorrow night, take it one day and one pitch at a time.”
Texas will face No. 1 Oklahoma at 8:30 p.m. on Friday night on ESPN2.