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Cathi Aradi

Luna’s Gem Extends Texas’ Season as the Longhorns Eliminate Florida from the WCWS, 3-0

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Sometimes it just pays to have a senior All-American pitcher in the circle. For fourth-seeded Texas that fact was seriously re-affirmed on Sunday afternoon during an elimination contest against second-seeded Florida in Women’s College World Series action at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., as Blaire Luna (32-6) struck out 14 and allowed just one hit as the Longhorns eliminated the Gators, 3-0. 

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Designated player Kim Bruins (1-for-3) again registered the big blow for the Texas offense as her three-run homer off Florida starter Hannah Rogers during the top of the third inning proved to be all the offense the ‘Horns would need. Left fielder Torie Schmidt added a pair of hits in three at-bats, while third baseman Taylor Hoagland (1-for-2, run) and first baseman Karina Scott (1-for-3) each registered one of UT’s five hits in the contest.

“Just nice to get the W,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “To come out and really just turn it around and Florida is a great ball club.  Obviously, they had a late night and quite a long battle with Nebraska. So it was nice to come out. I thought our team was ready to go. Again, feeling very confident after yesterday and just talking about let's turn it around and come back and be ready to go. So I love the fight that they brought today.”

For the Gators, Rogers (33-7) suffered the defeat in the circle, allowing three runs on five hits with four walks and four strikeouts over seven innings of work. Freshman catcher Taylore Fuller contributed the lone Florida hit on a one-out single down the left field line in the fourth.

With UF perhaps suffering a little hangover from its 15-inning marathon victory over Nebraska on Saturday night, Texas threatened immediately during the top of the first inning against Rogers. Hoagland ripped a sharp leadoff single to left to christen the frame, and with one out, was joined via walk by shortstop Taylor Thom. UF’s junior All-American hurler responded to the outburst, however, by inducing a Bruins fly ball to left before getting catcher Mandy Ogle to hit into a fielder’s choice at third.

After Texas wasted a leadoff single from Schmidt during the top of the second, Florida’s offense attempted to get something started against Luna during the bottom half as designated player Lauren Haeger walked to christen the frame. A sacrifice bunt off the bat of right fielder Kelsey Horton advanced the runner into scoring position with one retired, but Texas’ All-American pitcher ended any potential trouble on consecutive strikeouts of catcher Taylore Fuller and first baseman Taylor Schwarz.

Walks got Rogers in major trouble opening the top of the third as Hoagland led off the frame with a free pass and Thom walked with one down. That set the stage for Bruins to do more WCWS damage as the designated player blasted a towering drive to left. Florida’s Briana Little tracked back to the wall in an attempt to make the grab, but saw the ball tip right off the edge of her glove to finish its trip over the fence for a HR and a 3-0 UT lead.

The Gator offense tried desperately to mount an answer in the bottom of the third with a lot of help from Luna. The Texas hurler hit both left fielder Briana Little and center fielder Kirsti Merritt with pitches before walking third baseman Stephanie Tofft to load the bases with two outs. UF’s leading RBI producer Haeger stepped to the plate facing a golden opportunity, but struck out over a seven-pitch at-bat to leave the bags packed.

Another threat went by the wayside for the Orange & Blue during the bottom of the fourth. A Fuller single down the left field line and a Little walk put two Gators aboard with two down. Pinch hitter Bailey Castro, who entered the contest 1-for-1 at the WCWS as a pinch hitter, got caught looking at strike three from Luna as the UF left on base total expanded to six through four frames.

With one on via an infield single in the top of the sixth, it appeared to everyone in attendance that Karina Scott had added to the Texas advantage. The Longhorn first baseman crushed a ball to deep left that had the looks of a two-run HR, but a strong wind blowing from left to right appeared to knock it down as it ricocheted off the top of the wall and remained in play for a very long single. A failed double steal that witnessed Schmidt thrown out at third for the second retirement helped derail the rally as pinch hitter Lindsey Stephens flew out to short center to end the once promising inning with no scoreboard damage.

Texas’ Luna continued her impressive efforts from the circle during the bottom of the sixth, pitching around a one-out walk to Fuller to register her 12th and 13th strikeouts of the contest.

Down to a final chance to rally in the bottom of the seventh, the Gators went quietly as pinch hitter Ensley Gammel struck out, Stewart chopped out to third, and Merritt was retired on a bunt out in front of the dish to conclude UT’s 3-0 victory.