The Texas Lady Longhorns have earned their way to a Women's College World Series berth, and are one win away from setting up a likely grudge match with the rival OU Sooners. Tonight's game is absolutely pivotal: because softball teams tend to rely so heavily on a single pitcher, only two teams in NCAA history have come through the losers' bracket to win the championship after losing their first game. So Texas needs to beat the Sun Devils tonight in order to stay on track to the national championship.
Tonight promises to be a great pitcher's duel between Texas' Blaire Luna and ASU's Dallas Escobedo. Escobedo has thrown 243 innings for the Sun Devils, and opposing batters are hitting just .185 against her. That has translated into a 2.16 ERA. Meanwhile, Amber Freeman and Cheyenne Coyle have combined to hit an astronomical 38 homeruns this season, so Luna will have to be careful with those two power hitters. The one apparent weakness that Texas must look to exploit is that Escobedo is somewhat prone to giving up the long ball: of the 163 hits she's allowed, 37 have been homeruns. That's good news for Taylor Hoagland and Taylor Thom, who have 29 homeruns for the Longhorns between them. Hopefully Luna can keep the ball in the park and Escobedo can't; a game this closely matched could come down to one or two swings. The game is at 6:00 central on ESPN2.
In today's final game, the heavily favored Lady Sooners will play eighth-seeded Michigan. To understand why Oklahoma is considered by far the team to beat in this tournament, just look at how all eight teams arrived in OKC. We noted earlier that the four teams competing in today's first two games had at least one tough contest in their super regionals. Texas similarly needed a come-from-behind victory to beat Florida State in its first game before a Luna no-hitter ended that series with a 4-0 Texas win. ASU beat Kentucky by a single run before running the Wildcats in a 5-2 finale. Michigan needed all three games to get past Louisiana Lafayette; their two victories came by a single run apiece, and the loss was a 5-0 blowout.
That brings us to Oklahoma. Hosting Texas A&M, the Sooners run-ruled their former conference mates. Twice. Game One was a 10-2, six-inning affair while Game Two was an even more merciless 8-0, five-inning "contest." The team revolves around superstar Keilani Ricketts, who is both a dominant pitcher and a very strong hitter. But there are several Sooners who can get it done at the plate, and Michigan is probably not going to enjoy finding that out for themselves tonight. If Texas manages to get by ASU, they know they can beat the Sooners: OU took two of three from UT in Austin this season, but the series was competitive.
This is your open thread for both games. Hook 'em!