Softball Super Regional Preview and Game One Open Thread

This is the New Zealand national men's softball team doing the traditional haka war dance, because it was one of very few photos that SBN has under the keyword "softball." And, it's pretty cool. - Fiona Goodall

The Lady Longhorns continue their road to the national title tonight, hosting Florida State in a best-of-three super regional at McCombs Field.

The Texas softball team swept its way through the Austin regional last weekend to earn a spot in this weekend's super-regional round. The Florida State Seminoles provide the last stumbling block between the Longhorns and an appearance in the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City. Getting to OKC would be sweet for lots of reasons, of course; but perhaps the best is that it would (likely) provide UT with a very special opportunity: the hated Oklahoma Sooners are the national number one seed and favorites to win the whole thing, so if Texas can get past FSU the Lady Longhorns would have a chance to march into OU territory and swipe the dream right out from under the Sooners.

But, first thing's first. Florida State made its way to Austin by pulling an upset last weekend, traveling to Mobile and knocking out the host University of South Alabama in dramatic fashion. They took out USA in the teams' second game of the tournament, but the Jaguars fought back through the losers' bracket to force a rematch--Florida State needed to win once, whereas South Alabama had to beat FSU twice to advance. In the first game, the hosts won a pitcher's duel 3-0 to set up a winner-take-all championship game.

South Alabama continued to look strong in that second game, putting up a six-spot in the bottom of the second and maintaining control the remainder of the contest. The Lady 'Noles entered the seventh (and final) inning trailing by a score of 6-1. With two outs and a runner on second base, the score was still 6-1. So, just to recap: down by 5, one out away from having their season ended. Sophomore Bailey Schinella then drew a walk, followed by an infield single by freshman Alex Kossoff. An errant throw on the infield hit scored a run, cutting the Jaguar lead to 6-2. Another freshman, Katlin Allen, drew a full-count walk to load the bases for junior slugger Kelly Hensley, who proceeded to absolutely mash a grand slam off the scoreboard behind the left field fence. The stunned Jaguars couldn't score in the bottom of the seventh, and freshman Victoria East completed the comeback with a game-winning solo shot in the top of the eighth.

On paper, Texas must be considered the favorites this weekend. The Seminoles certainly have two strong pitchers in Lacey Waldrop (1.50 ERA, .188 opp BA, 210 innings) and Monica Perry (1.95, .190, 161.2), but their fielding is suspect: FSU's opponents have scored 344 runs, but only 276 of them have been earned. If the Longhorns can put the ball in play and put pressure on the Seminole defense, they should be able to score some runs. Plus, even as good as Waldrop and Perry are, it doesn't appear that there is a pitcher in college softball who can handle Texas' Terrific Taylors; Taylor Hoagland is now hitting .444 and slugging .874, while Taylor Thom is hitting .392 and just set a Texas postseason record with six RBI against South Carolina on Sunday, including a grand slam. And it must be noted that Texas' top two pitchers have numbers even more impressive than Florda State's: Blaire Luna sports a 1.17 ERA and opponents hit only .129 against her in 215.2 innings of work, while Kim Bruins (1.57, .196, 76) is not too far behind. Oh, and Bruins can also hit; when she's not pitching, she's hitting .333 as the team's first baseman.

This Texas team is strong, balanced, and poised to make a run to Oklahoma City. But if last week's events in Mobile teach us anything, it's that you're foolish if you think you have Florida State beaten before you've gotten the final out. This should be a great series.

Tonight's first pitch is at 8:00 PM. Game Two is tomorrow at 2:00 PM, with Game Three to follow if necessary at 5:00. All three games will be broadcast on ESPNU and online at WatchESPN, and if you live in Austin there are apparently still a very few tickets available. This will be your open thread. Hook 'em!

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