AUSTIN, Texas -- USA Softball National Player of the Year finalist and junior left-handed pitcher Cat Osterman (Houston, Texas) struck out 15 of the first 18 batters she faced en route to firing a perfect game -- her sixth no-hitter of the year and her third no-hitter in the last four starts -- and catcher Megan Willis (Chandler, Ariz.) tied her career-best hitting effort, going 3-for-3, to lead the fifth-ranked and fourth-seeded Texas softball team to a 2-0 victory over Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in the NCAA softball Austin Regional winner's bracket second round game at UT's McCombs Field.
The win was Texas' ninth win in a row (tying its season-high) and advanced the Longhorns (44-11) into Sunday's regional championship game at 12 p.m., where the Horns will face the Bulldogs again. In Saturday evening's losers' bracket elimination game, Mississippi State defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 2-1 in eight innings. The Islanders were eliminated from the tournament and MSU advanced for a rematch with Texas. Texas needs one win to advance out of the double-elimination regional into the best-of-three game NCAA Super Regional, while Mississippi State would need to win two games against Texas on Sunday to advance to the Super Regional.
It was Osterman's (26-6) seventh perfect game of her UT career and the third this season. She faced the minimum -- 21 batters -- striking out 17 which set the Texas record for most strikeouts in an NCAA game. Her ninth strikeout of the game also marked her 500th of the season. Of the 99 pitches thrown by Osterman, 71 were for strikes. Of the four Bulldog batters which did not strike out, three hit infield groundouts and one lined to third. Osterman has hurled back-to-back no-hitters in NCAA play, as she also tossed a one in Friday's 1-0 win over Massachusetts where she struck out 14 and walked one, facing 22 batters.
The Texas offense backed up Osterman's gem by belting eight hits and pushing single runs across in each of the third and fourth innings. Willis' three-hit effort was joined by Tina Boutelle (Katy, Texas), who also had a multiple-hit game, going 2-for-3.
In the third, MicKayla Padilla (Cedar Park, Texas) slapped a two-out hit over the drawn-in infield and then moved to second on Boutelle's single to right field. Chez Sievers (Mission Viejo, Calif.) then helped bring in Padilla when her come-backer to the circle was mis-thrown by MSU starter Kelli Miller, allowing Padilla to come in from second for an early 1-0 lead.
Amber Hall (Deer Park, Texas) added an RBI single to bring in the insurance run in the fourth. Willis led off with a single through the left side and was then replaced by Lacy Robinson, who moved to third on a wild pitch. Hall's single to right field brought in Robinson to pad the Longhorns' lead.
Miller (14-12) took the loss for Mississippi State, allowing both runs (one earned) with no walks and no strikeouts in 6.0 innings of work.
The Texas pitching staff has now thrown shutouts in five of the last six games, all postseason contests.
The Texas-Mississippi State NCAA Regional Final will be contested at McCombs Field at noon on Sunday.
Mississippi State Head Coach Jay Miller
General statement on the game: I thought we came out ready to play. Kelli (Miller) did a nice job on the mound and gave us a chance. That's what you ask for against Cat Osterman. She threw a great game today. She's got an Olympic gold medal around her neck, and she showed everyone why today. We didn't do a good job at the plate, and she's the reason why.
On the weather (humid and 96 degrees at the end of the game): This is the kind of weather we have back home; we're used to this. Being in the loser's bracket and having to beat Texas twice tomorrow is what's going to be tough to face if we win our game later today. It's not the weather, it's the number of games you have to win now to win this regional tournament.
Mississippi State sophomore pitcher Kelli Miller
On her throwing error to first base in the third inning which gave UT its first run: I think I just got flustered and threw the ball away. You don't like it to happen, but sometimes it does.
Texas Head Coach Connie Clark
Her general assessment of the game and talking about Cat Osterman's perfect game: Before the game, we talked about this being a big game and I said the same thing yesterday that I'll say today. Today's result was more based on the weather and trying to get one game won to get to the championship tomorrow. We did that. Overall, we got a great effort offensively and defensively. As for Cat, she was coming off last night where you don't know if anyone could be any better than she was, and she goes out and throws a perfect game! It was a tremendous overall effort today.
I really think Cat is hitting her stride right now in the postseason. Like she said yesterday, she is rested and her arm is fresh now that we are out of the regular season grind. She and Megan (Willis, the catcher) are doing a great job of mixing pitches up. Cat is not just living on her down pitch. And, when she is effective at mixing it up, it's really hard to get a bead on her when you are facing her.
Junior pitcher Cat Osterman
"I wasn't thinking about it (the perfect game) at the start of the game. I just wanted to go out there and pitch the best game I can. I felt really good today, just like yesterday, and it just so happened that I threw a perfect game. It got to the late innings, and you know what's going on, so you try and be a little sharper. Megan (Willis) called a great game and we kept them off-balance; I think that was the key."
Sophomore catcher Megan Willis
"Cat and I go with the game plan every time out. We call whatever is going to work for Cat that day. Today, everything was on for her. I could use every pitch and we had everyone guessing; even our coaches were guessing what we were going to throw! Everything was just awesome for her today."