No. 2 Softball clinches Big 12 regular season title
AUSTIN, Texas -- Behind the two-hit, 17-strikeout shutout performance of pitching ace Cat Osterman and a three-run first inning, the No. 2 ranked Texas softball team posted a 3-0 win over Big 12 opponent Oklahoma State Sunday, and clinched the 2006 Big 12 Conference regular season championship in the process.
Texas moves to 48-5 overall and to 14-2 in the league, with one conference game left to play. The Longhorns are guaranteed the Big 12 regular season crown - the third in the program's history - as second-place Nebraska stands 11-4 with two games to play and Baylor is third in the league standings (12-5) with one game left - that against the Longhorns on May 3.
Texas also claimed the Big 12 regular season championship in 2002 and 2003.
The game was played in front of a school single game attendance record of 1,570 fans, who were watching the Longhorns play their final regular season home game at McCombs Field on "Texas Senior Day". The standing-room only crowd broke the former record of 1,437, set on April 6, 2005 when UT hosted Texas A&M in Austin.
Texas struck for three runs in the first inning, aided by three hits, a walk, a stolen base, two Cowgirls errors and an OSU wild pitch, as UT sent seven runners to the plate.
The Longhorns got the only run they would need when sophomore shortstop Desiree Williams rapped a lead-off double to left, and second baseman Chez Sievers followed with her own double, also to left, which scored Williams. It was Sievers' third double in back-to-back games against the Cowgirls.
Rightfielder Amber Hall then bunted safely for an infield single which sent Sievers to third. UT then pulled a delayed steal, with Hall stealing second. The OSU infielders tried to pick Sievers off third on the play, but in the ensuing rundown, Cowgirls third baseman Shianne Cruce threw wildly, allowing Sievers to score. In the rundown, Hall was moving on the play, and reached third before breaking to the plate on the Cruce wild throw. OSU pitcher Jessica Hoppock picked up the ball and threw to catcher Courtney Totte. Totte turned to tag Hall but dropped the ball for OSU's second error of the game which allowed Hall to score easily for the 3-0 lead.
Texas continued to threaten as Megan Willis drew a walk. The first out came on a sacrifice bunt which moved Willis to second base. After a flyout, Willis moved to third on a wild pitch by Hoppock, but was stranded there as Hoppock retired the side on a strikeout.
"I was really happy to contribute again today," said Sievers, who drove home the winning run in Saturday's 1-0 eight-inning game against OSU. "Before the game, Coach Clark came up to me and told me that I was going to move to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, and I was ready to roll with it. She told me that I was moving there because I was on a hot streak. The other part of the thought process was to make sure that they pitched to Des (Desiree Williams) in the leadoff spot. It worked out well for us today."
Osterman picked up her 16th victory in a row and stays perfect in Big 12 play (at 12-0). Overall, Osterman is now 32-1. She walked four in addition to her 17 K's. It was her 23rd shutout and 28th complete game.
The loss sent Oklahoma State to 19-27 overall and to 5-13 in the Big 12. The Cowgirls managed just two singles off Osterman, both in the sixth inning. Kim Kaye hit a one-out infield single before Cruce singled hard up the middle. With two runners on, Kaye was then picked off second by a great throw from Willis, and Osterman retired the Cowgirls by getting Lauren Kitchens to strike out swinging.
Prior to the sixth inning, Osterman has allowed a runner to advance to second only three times - in the second inning, fourth and fifth innings. Each time, Osterman retired the side on a strikeout.
"It really was great to go out on top of the Big 12 on Senior Day," noted Osterman. "Now, we focus on the Baylor game Wednesday, and then take care of finals and re-focus on the post-season Big 12 tournament and the NCAAs. Today, we just told ourselves to go out there and take care of business."
"We ended regular season play at home on a high note, and I am really proud of this team for that," said Texas head coach Connie Clark. "This was a great atmosphere today. The crowd was tremendous! It felt good to get those early runs. We were much better at the plate today, playing pitch-by-pitch and swinging aggressively. After conferring with (assistant coach) Corrie Hill last night, we decided to move Chez (Sievers) up in the batting order, putting her second. We did that because Chez has really been hitting well and we wanted to make them pitch to our leadoff hitter, Desiree (Williams), who they purposefully walked three times yesterday.
"Our season so far is a testament to this senior class which has set the trend and raised the bar for our program," Clark concluded. "This is the first step of what we want to accomplish this year. It has taken a lot of work to earn the Big 12 championship. We have a short week now, and want to finish strong with Baylor on Wednesday and finals coming up. Then, we will prepare for the Big 12 tournament and NCAAs."
Taking the loss for the second day in a row was Hoppock, now 12-21. She also lost 1-0 in Saturday's eight-inning contest. In the 3-0 loss, Hoppock yielded three hits, and two of the runs were earned. She struck out six and walked two. She pitched hitless ball over the last five innings, but the damage had been done in the first when she yielded the three hits to Williams, Sievers and Hall.
OSU committed two errors, both in the first, while UT had one error. The Longhorns left three runners on base, while the Cowgirls stranded six.
Texas now closes out the regular season with a single game at Big 12 opponent Baylor on Wednesday, May 3. The game will be played at 6:30 p.m. (Central) in Waco, Texas.