The first four innings of last night's WCWS first-round game between Texas and Arizona State was about what we expected: a 0-0 pitcher's duel between Texas' Blaire Luna and ASU's Dallas Escobedo. Arizona State didn't manage a hit in those first four innings, although Luna did have to pitch out of a jam caused by a walk and an infield error. Escobedo also had a scare in the second, when the Longhorns' Kim Bruins launched a fly ball over the wall in left--only to have it hauled back in by the Sun Devils' Elizabeth Caporuscio on a play she made look easier than it was.
ASU finally broke through in the top of the fifth, with a pair of runs on their first three hits of the game: two one-out singles followed by a double into the left-center gap. To her credit, Luna then settled down and avoided more damage by getting the Sun Devils' two best hitters, Cheyenne Coyle and Amber Freeman, to end the inning.
It looked bleak for the Longhorns for about a minute, but they fought back for a lead they would never relinquish in the bottom of the frame. After a one-out single by nine-hole hitter Stephanie Ceo, Taylor Hoagland struck out swinging. But then Texas put on a classic two-out rally, keyed--as many rallies are--by a walk. Brejae Washington put together a spectacular at-bat, fouling off a pair of full-count pitches before drawing that fourth ball. Taylor Thom then lifted a well-placed fly ball to right field that dropped in for a double, scoring Ceo; Washington scored on a throwing error by the right fielder, and it was tied up at 2. Then Bruins came up and hit almost exactly the same ball she had hit in the second--but this time, it bounced out of Caporuscio's glove and over the wall for a two-run homer.
Arizona State answered with a leadoff homerun to start the top of the sixth, but that was as close as they would get. Another pair of runs in the sixth served as insurance for Texas. In the top of the seventh, coach Connie Clark made a somewhat controversial decision by putting Bruins in the circle to get the save rather than leave Luna out there to finish the game. Clark may have been partially influenced by the fact that ASU's head coach was calling out Luna's pitches before she threw them; whatever the reason, Bruins overcame a fielding miscue that extended the inning and held on for a 6-3 Texas win.
That success earns the Longhorns the honor of playing the basically-hosting and top-seeded OU Sooners tonight at 8:30 on ESPN. It should be a piece of cake; Keilani Ricketts may be the national player of the year for the second straight season, and she may have started the WCWS with a no-hitter against Michigan last night, but that doesn't mean much. It's simple logic: as we all know, OU sucks. Texas is playing OU. Because Texas does not suck, we can assume Texas should win. Right?
In all honesty, tonight's game is huge for the Longhorns' championship hopes. There is no question that beating Oklahoma would be an upset. But if Texas can pull it off tonight, then not only will Texas need only one more win to make the championship series; the Longhorns would be rid of Oklahoma until a possible rematch in the championship series. As intrepid commenter Texas Wright pointed out yesterday, the NCAA flips the bracket for the Women's College World Series (unlike the men's version). That means, either way, Texas and OU would not meet again after tonight until the championship series. Tonight's loser will move to the other side of the bracket and play the winner of tomorrow morning's Nebraska-Florida elimination game, while the loser of tonight's Tennessee-Washington game will play the winner of the ASU-Michigan elimination game. Meanwhile, tonight's Texas-OU winner will play whomever comes out of the morass of Michigan, ASU, and the Tennessee-Washington loser. Clear as day, right?
This will be your open thread for both Texas-OU and the preceding showdown between Tennessee and Washington, 6:00 on ESPN. It won't be easy for Texas tonight, but with Luna in the circle and Texas' never-say-die hitters anything is possible. Hook 'em!