Thursday, March 23, 2023

Czech, Smith beat Texas over Arizona in WCWS semi-finals

Oklahoma City ( Associated Press) — Unseeded Texas has four wins from a national title.

Estelle Czech allowed just one hit in a relief 3 2/3 scoreless innings, JJ Smith hit a three-run homer and the Longhorns beat Arizona 5-2 on Sunday night to reach the Women’s College World Series semifinals.

The Czech (12-1), a sophomore, retired the first eight batsmen he faced in the relief of ace Hailey Dolcini on his way to eliminate the Wildcats.

“Me and the coach (Mike White) discussed before the game that today my position is to be a reliever and take on Hailey if needed,” Czech said. “That’s what I tried to do. Hailey did her job and I did my thing.”

Smith, also a sophomore, fought through his veins to hit his second home run of the season.

“It’s my first time in the World Series,” she said. “On deck, the first thing that came to my mind was this is for the super seniors… I was doing it for my team, to be honest with you.”

Texas (45-20-1) will play Big 12 rival Oklahoma State — No. 7 overall seed — in the semifinals on Monday. Because it is a double-elimination tournament to decide who plays in the best of three championship series and Texas is already at a loss, the Longhorns will have to win twice on Monday to proceed. Oklahoma State, who are undefeated in the World Series so far, will need just one win to move on.

Oklahoma State beat Texas all four times it played this season, including one matchup in the Big 12 tournament. But Texas had to win a regional at No. 13 Washington and a super regional over No. 4 Arkansas to qualify, so the Longhorns are used to defeating the odds.

“We’re really gritty,” Smith said. “Over the course of the season, we’ve all come really close and understanding that whatever happens, we’re still in the game. We won’t be out of the game until it’s over.”

In the other semi-final matchup on Monday, defending champion and No. 1 seed Oklahoma will face No. 5 UCLA, with UCLA needing to win twice and Oklahoma only needing to win once to advance.

Jayne Jefferson of Texas (2) slides into second base before Arizona fielder Sophia Carroll, left, can make a tag during the fifth inning of the NCAA Softball Women’s College World Series game on Sunday, June 5, 2022 in Oklahoma City .

With Texas, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the semifinals, this is the first time the three Big 12 teams have reached the semifinals and the first time since the 2015 Southeastern Conference that three of the last four teams in a conference have been in the final.

Courtney Day of Texas hit a single homer in the bottom of the third to open the scoring.

Carly Scoopin’s hard single below the right field line in the fourth beat Ellie Skaggs and Amber Towen to give Arizona a 2-1 lead. Soon after, the Czech replaced Dolcini with two runners up and took out the two batsmen he was facing for a run.

Texas took the lead for good in their half of the fourth. Smith’s three-run blast gave Texas a 4–2 lead, shortly after Devin Netz replaced starter Hana Bowen. Bowen (14-12) lost to Arizona.

Arizona (39–22) lost its first eight Pac-12 games and tied for last place in the league before heating up during Regionals and Super Regionals. It was a strong end for first-year coach Caitlin Lowe, who replaced eight-time national champion Mike Candrea.

“I think in 21 days I saw them grow up,” Lowe said. “We’re on the road to all of this. But I saw him go by a team that was happy to be here, and then he realized, like, Why can’t we?”


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