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Texas Longhorns become first unseeded team to play for national title

An unseeded Longhorns softball team showed plenty of one of the mottoes of the university — Texas fight — in beating Big 12 foe Oklahoma State in back-to-back contests June 6 to advance to the NCAA Division I national championship series.

Waiting for them are the Oklahoma Sooners, whose players have made it clear they wanted to play the Longhorns during bracket play of the College World Series.

What’s even more impressive for the Longhorns (47-20-1, 12-6 Big 12)? They have staved off elimination throughout this playoff run. First it was during the Seattle Regional where they beat Weber State 6-0 and host the University of Washington 8-2 to stay in the winner’s bracket. Since the regional was double elimination, the Huskies had to claw out a 2-1 victory over the Longhorns to force a third and decisive contest. And Washington came close to finishing the comeback. After Texas took a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning, they added another run in the top of the seventh for a 3-0 advantage. It could have been worse. Texas left the bases loaded. Meanwhile, Washington scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. The tying run was on first and the winning run was batting. But pitcher Hailey Dolcini took matters in her own hands and got her fourth strikeout to send the Longhorns to face another rival, Arkansas, in the Fayetteville Super Regional.

What a three-game series that was. The Razorbacks were anything but hospitable in the opening game, scoring three runs in the fifth inning and four in the sixth to win 7-1. Former Marble Falls High School pitcher Logan Hulon, who graduated from Dripping Springs, made an appearance in the contest.

Game two looked like it would be a repeat of the first game, especially since the Razorbacks took a 1-0 lead in the third inning. But a Katie Cimusz home run in the third inning tied the contest and Janae Jefferson’s home run in the same inning gave the Longhorns the lead for good. Mary Iakopo hit an RBI double, also in the third inning, for a 3-1 lead. That was all the run support Dolcini needed as she went seven complete innings where she scattered five hits, issued a walk and struck out two.

Texas played a like a team that had nothing to lose in the third game. Again the Longhorns scored three runs, all in the sixth inning, thanks to a two RBI double by Alyssa Washington. She came home when Iakopo hit an RBI single. The surprise winning pitcher was freshman Sophia Simpson, who pitched all seven innings, and issued four walks, struck out seven and didn’t allow a run. And most importantly, she protected the lead when the Longhorns got it.

At the Women’s College World Series, Texas lost only once — to the Sooners who relished playing the Longhorns after losing the third game in a regular season series in Austin 4-1. But the Longhorns have shown they don’t flinch when the pressure is on. They had to beat Oklahoma State twice on June 6, a tall order considering the Cowgirls swept the regular season series against Texas and then added a fourth win at the Big 12 Conference Tournament 6-1.

The Longhorns showed their resiliency, also known as Texas Fight, in rebounding from the 7-2 loss to Oklahoma to beat Arizona 5-2 in an elimination game to face Oklahoma State in the national semifinals. The Cowgirls needed only to win once June 6 to eliminate the Longhorns. Instead, Texas won 5-0 to force a second winner-take-all contest. By the end of the third inning, Oklahoma State led 5-0, and head coach Kenny Gajewski said he was feeling pretty good at that point though he knew there was still plenty of softball to be played.

Texas answered immediately in the fourth inning thanks to a three-run homer by Courtney Day to trim the deficit in half. That score stood until a wild fifth inning. That’s when Texas scored three unearned runs when the Cowgirls recorded three errors, none bigger than by the right fielder who bobbled Bella Dayton’s single to her. That allowed the Longhorn to run the bases all the way home for the winning run. After the error in right field, the infielder made a bad throw to second that went into center field, and Dayton turned on the afterjets and never stopped.

The Longhorns used two pitchers in the contest: Estelle Czech and Dolcini.

The best-of-three championship series begins Wednesday, June 8, at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

It’s been a banner year for the burnt orange. The softball team is the latest squad to play for a national championship during the 2021-22 school year. Four Texas teams have already won national titles during the 2021-22 school year: women’s tennis, women’s rowing, men’s track and field and men’s golf. The baseball team is traveling to play East Carolina in the Greenville Super Regional for the right to advance to the College World Series. And the men’s and women’s track and field teams will compete in the NCAA Division I outdoor national meet this weekend.

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