Texas reaches WCWS championship series behind freshman phenom pitcher

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Texas couldn’t get much offense against Stanford All-American pitcher NiJaree Canady. But then again, the Longhorns didn’t need much with freshman phenom Teagan Kavan in the circle.

Kavan threw a one-hit, complete-game shutout against Stanford for the second time at the Women’s College World Series to lift the Longhorns to a dramatic 1-0 win Monday at Devon Park. Top-seeded Texas (56-8) will get a day off Tuesday while Big 12 rival and No. 2 seed Oklahoma meets No. 4 Florida to determine the Longhorns’ finals opponent.

The best-of-three championship series will begin Wednesday, but it will be tough to produce the amount of late drama that decided Texas’ latest game against Stanford.

“Obviously, that was an old-fashioned ballgame right there,â€� said Texas coach Mike White, a former pitcher for the U.S. and New Zealand men’s national teams who appreciates a pitcher’s duel as much as any coach. “Two tremendous pitchers going at it. Whoever was going to blink first, the other was going to win.â€�

Stanford’s blink came in the top of the seventh. With both teams locked in a scoreless deadlock, Texas leadoff hitter Alyssa Washington reached first base on the second error of the game for Stanford when second baseman Taryn Kern mishandled the ball. Washington motored to third on a hit by Joley Mitchell, who was credited with a double even though the late relay throw to third allowed her to take second base.

Washington, the team’s senior captain, then tried to reach home on a bunt attempt by Ashton Maloney but got caught in a rundown. However, the wily veteran somehow slid under the tag attempt by first baseman Ava Gall at the plate after the toss to Gall by third baseman Jade Berry to Gall was a little too soft.

“Whatever it takes to score,� said Washington, grinning after the game. “I know in a ballgame like that, it takes one run. It was going through my mind, whatever it takes.�

Washington was certainly correct. The one run held up because Kavan continued her dominance of the No. 8 Cardinal (50-17). In its two games against Kavan in Oklahoma City, Stanford had just two hits and fanned 15 times. According to Stanford coach Jessica Allister, Kavan threw even better on Monday than she did in the WCWS opener last week while giving up one walk and striking out seven.

“I thought Kavan did a fabulous job,â€� Allister said. “I think you could see a little bit, maybe, of the nerves on Thursday. We maybe didn’t take advantage of that. Then today, you could tell she was settled in and comfortable and pitching aggressively.

“Hats off to her. She threw two good games, kept us guessing. She did a phenomenal job. She’s a great pitcher.â€�

White agreed with his peer, saying his freshman ace – who led the Longhorns in innings, wins and strikeouts this season – has learned to master the moment as the postseason has gone on.

“Early on, especially going back to regionals and super regionals, she was nervous,â€� he said. “You could visibly see it. But you couldn’t see those nerves this week.â€�

Kavan credited her veteran teammates, a handful of whom played in the 2022 WCWS championship series won by Oklahoma. She also cited several defensive gems from the Longhorns, including a pair of diving catches by left-fielder Bella Dayton and a dandy snag by centerfielder Kayden Henry.

“Honestly, I was real calm today,� she said. “I was more in control of my breathing (and) felt more in control of the game. I had no doubt we were going to pull through.�

This post appeared first on USA TODAY