Arizona’s Callista Balko picked the perfect time to break an 0-for-9, nine strikeout career against Texas pitcher Cat Osterman.
Balko’s sixth-inning single broke up a no-hitter and was mishandled in left field to score Caitlin Lowe with the winning run that lifted Arizona to a 2-0 win over the Longhorns Friday evening at the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“I wanted my teammates to know that when I went up there they could have confidence in me,” Balko said. “I just thought there was nothing I could lose right here and I have to stay on it a little bit longer. She threw me my pitch, and I just choked up on the bat a little bit and had a different plan. I stayed in the back of the box and took care of business.”
The win, Arizona’s first against Osterman since Feb. 8, 2002, moved the Wildcats to 51-10 on the year and one victory away from the championship series. Texas dropped to 55-8 and will face the winner of Saturday’s elimination contest between UCLA and Alabama.
“Yesterday was a ‘wow’ game, so today was a ‘wow,’ ‘wow’ game,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “It was a great game with two great pitchers going at it. We got timely hits. I was pleased with the way our kids kept their composure and kept fighting. It worked out well for us, and I thought it was a big run. I told them that we needed to match them pitch for pitch, play for play and get a timely hit. That’s exactly what we did today.”
The deciding runs came with one out in the inning. Lowe was hit by a pitch and then stole second. Osterman then issued a walk to Kristie Fox, and Balko delivered the single that sent Lowe to third. Texas freshman left fielder Shannon Thomas let the ball slip past her, giving Lowe the opportunity to break the scoreless tie.
Fox advanced to third on the error, and the Wildcats added the final run on a successful double steal that brought pinch-runner Kelly Nelson home.
The game-deciding sixth inning broke up an outstanding pitcher’s dual between Osterman, who allowed just on earned run on one hit as she fell to 38-3 on the season. A day removed from striking out a seven-inning series record 18 Thursday against Arizona State, the collegiate player of the year recorded 13 more K’s in the loss.
“Obviously it was a tough one to lose, but you have to credit Arizona,” UT head coach Connie Clark said. “It was a great game. We traded punches back and forth, then getting to that late inning I thought we had great composure when I took the time out. Cat did a great job pitching around Fox, but you have to credit Balko. We have to not hang on this too long. We have to get geared up for the next one, and we need to keep our heads up and take it one game at a time.”
Alicia Hollowell struck out nine and allowed four hits in the scoreless effort that moved her to 29-4 overall. The victory was Hollowell’s first over the Longhorns in her four-year career.