For the first time in Women’s College World Series history, an unseeded team will play for the national championship as the No. 14 Texas Longhorns won a sixth elimination game in the NCAA Tournament, pulling off an unlikely comeback from a 5-0 deficit in a 6-5 win over the Oklahoma State Cowgirls on Monday evening in Oklahoma City.
Facing its sixth elimination game of the postseason, Texas didn’t respond well in the bottom of the first inning. Back in the circle, left-hander Estelle Czech allowed a leadoff single, the runner stole second base and advanced to third when shortstop Alyssa Washington couldn’t field the throw from catcher Mary Iakopo, a mistake compounded by second baseman Janae Jefferson not backing up the throw, and scored when Washington made a late decision to throw home on a ground ball that was not in time.
Czech recovered to retire the next three batters. But even the one-run margin was significant — Oklahoma State entered the game 19-1 this season when scoring first. On the flip side? A tough Texas group with 16 comeback wins.
In the second, Czech gave up a two-out, two-run home run to Oklahoma State shortstop Kiley Naomi, only her sixth of the season and first since late March, just as the play-by-play announcer noted her recent lack of power.
Texas head coach Mike White replaced Czech with right-hander Hailey Dolcini in the third inning, raising questions about why White didn’t turn to his ace after Czech had to throw so many pitches on Sunday and Monday. On the broadcast, White said that Dolcini was feeling fatigued and he wanted to keep Czech rolling and not try to bring her back in after sitting.
Dolcini certainly looked fatigued in the circle during her early innings, laboring through a 32-pitch frame that included another two-run home run by the Cowgirls, this time by right fielder Karli Petty.
Texas didn’t get it first hit off of Oklahoma State ace Kelly Maxwell, perhaps the best pitcher in the country, until center fielder Bella Dayton singled to lead off the fourth inning and advanced to second base on a throwing error by Maxwell. Iakopo drew her second walk of the game and designated player Courtney Day hit her second home run of the day off the top of the wall in left field to cut the Cowgirls lead to 5-3.
In what felt like a crucial inning for the Longhorns with the top of the lineup batting in the fifth, right fielder Jordyn Whittaker drew a walk and Scott singled to put runners on first and second with one out as Maxwell’s pitch count reached into the 90s and pitchers started to warm up in the Oklahoma State bullpen. Dayton singled through the left side of the infield and the Cowgirls defense melted down. Initially held at third, Whitaker scored when the right fielder bobbled the ball. On the relay, the Oklahoma State first baseman tried to get Scott at second, but threw the ball all the way to the wall instead, allowing Scott and Dayton to score as Texas took a 6-5 lead.
On the play, the win probability for Oklahoma State dropped from 78 percent to 36 percent, the largest negative swing on a single play in the entire season for the Cowgirls. It was that catastrophic, and all the more remarkable because Oklahoma State entered Monday’s games third nationally in fielding percentage.
Dolcini hit the leadoff batter in the bottom of the fifth, but the attempted sacrifice bunt by the following hitter bounced into her outside the box, and a double play started by Jefferson at second base ended the inning. It was the 10th double play for the Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament after turning only 17 in the 56 regular-season games.
It's a TEXAS TWO-STEP 4⃣-6⃣-3⃣ STYLE!!!— Texas Softball (@TexasSoftball) June 7, 2022
Clear the basepaths again as the Longhorns turn their third double play of the day to send us to the sixth leading by one!
E5 - TEXAS 6 - OSU 5 pic.twitter.com/9hLf8uCoDm
In the sixth, Dolcini looked sharp, getting a foulout to Scott, a strikeout, and a popup to shortstop. Dolcini was jut as good in the seventh, retiring Oklahoma State in order to send Texas to the championship series.
On Wednesday, the Longhorns will face the Sooners at 7:30 p.m. Central ESPN in the opener of the best-of-three series.