Poised playmaking carries Softball
April 30, 2012
Natalie England, TexasSports.com
AUSTIN, Texas -- Nadia Taylor is proof that dreams really do come true.
On Saturday afternoon, as the Texas Softball senior worked into her defensive crouch along the third base line, she had a vision. Call it a premonition.
Taylor saw a bat striking ball, a neon bullet hurtling her direction and then her outstretched glove snagging the liner mid air. So, moments later, when Texas A&M's Meagan May sent a screamer down the line, Taylor reacted to exactly what she anticipated. She dove right, gloved the line drive and then maintained her temperament to tag third base and double up the Aggies' runner.
With Taylor's dramatic double play in the top of the seventh as their momentum, the Longhorns scored two runs in the bottom of the inning to complete the walk-off victory and then returned Sunday to a jam-packed, sun-splashed Red & Charline McCombs Field to take a 4-3 triumph over the rival Aggies and secure the series win.
The Longhorns were shut out in College Station on Thursday night in the first game of the three-game series.
"You always feel emotion. It was back-and-forth and close. So, there was a lot of emotion there," head coach Connie Clark said. "You have to try to keep it in check, and stay one-pitch at a time."
Defense proved to be the instigator in both victories against the Aggies. Taylor's bang-bang double play staged a miraculous seventh inning that saw Torie Schmidt battle through nine pitches before lacing a walk-off double to plate Lexy Bennett and Karina Scott and send the Longhorns into an exuberant dog pile.
On Sunday, pitcher Rachel Fox appeared undaunted and unfazed with the bases loaded and no outs in the second inning. Fox trusted her pitch location and her defense, and she manipulated consecutive A&M batters into hitting ground balls to short stop Taylor Thom, who fielded both cleanly and fired home to get two force outs and prevent runs from scoring. Fox ended the inning by forcing a weak infield pop out.
"She kept the pitch down, she did not get it elevated, and we got groundballs out of it and had good things happen," Clark said. "I thought we stayed very poised and with very good focus, zeroing in when we needed to."
Fox again survived a bases loaded jam in the third, paving the way for Taylor Hoagland's second home run in as many days. This one was a rope over the left field wall that also brought Mandy Ogle home to give UT a 2-1 lead that the Longhorns never relinquished.
Hoagland crushed her third home run of the series -- and 14th of the season -- later in the fifth inning, and Brejae Washington followed with an opposite field blast. By time the ball finally cleared the right field wall, Washington was jubilantly rounding second base.
"All I know is that it would have been an inside-the-park home run if it had hit the fence. It was nice," Clark said. "We were showing some short game and bunting earlier in the count, and when she got into a very favorable count, it was like, `go with your hard slap.' I think it freed her up."
The Longhorns now sit in second place in the Big 12 standings with a 13-6 record in conference games. Oklahoma remains in first with a 14-4 mark, and the Sooners host UT for a three-game series this weekend.
First, UT travels to Baylor on Tuesday. The Lady Bears defeated the Longhorns 5-4 in extra innings on April 18.
"When you compete and you stay in the moment, good things are going to happen for this club, I think, because we are talented enough," Clark said Sunday. "So that is what I am proud of, because we have to take that piece and we need to keep moving forward with it, because obviously we are facing good competition in Baylor and OU."