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Texas softball coach Connie Clark watches as her team runs drills during the second day of practice for the 2017 season at McCombs Field Jan. 12, 2017. Clark's Longhorns will face nine teams ranked in the NFCA preseason top 25 poll. Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman

Softball

Diamond Dust: Can Texas softball escape College Station?

Posted May 18th, 2017

The bubble surrounding Texas’ softball team didn’t burst on Sunday.

For better or for worse, the Longhorns (31-24) were one of the NCAA tournament’s 32 at-large bids, landing in the College Station regional as expected along with host Texas A&M (42-10), Texas State (41-15) and Texas Southern (25-19).

At first glance, this looks like an unwinnable region for Texas.

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The Bobcats swept the Longhorns for the first time since 2000 with a pair of 2-1 victories (March 1 in Austin, April 5 in San Marcos). Texas A&M and Texas have met 42 times, with the series knotted at 21-21. The 12th-ranked Aggies knocked Texas out of the Lafayette region last year, but Texas has won three of the last four meetings.

However, don’t forget that the Longhorns are 3-15 against ranked opponents and the Aggies are the only ranked team in the regional.

Texas Southern is 0-8 against Texas all time, but keep in mind that Iowa State had only one win over Texas in 49 tries prior to this season’s series win over the Longhorns.

Also, Texas, which carried the third-worst team batting average (.278) in the Big 12, will face good pitching in games against A&M and Texas State. Bobcats junior Randi Rupp is 3-0 against Texas and boasts the fifth most strikeouts in the country. The Aggies have the trio of Trinity Harrington, Lexi Smith and Samantha Show, who beat Texas the last time the two schools played.

Let’s play in some dirt.

Bases loaded: Here’s a team-by-team breakdown of the College Station regional and what Texas will expect to see.

Texas A&M sophomore Samantha Show is the most versatile player in College Station this weekend and is one to watch for the Aggies. CREDIT: Texas A&M athletics

12-TEXAS A&M (42-10) 

Conference: SEC (4th)

Coach: Jo Evans  1,102-594-2, 31 years (789-384-2, 21 years at A&M)

NCAA appearances (record): 27 (77-60)

Last 10 games: 5-5

All-time against Texas: 21-21

Key wins: Texas State (5-1 March 29); No. 22 Georgia (10-3, 1-0, 2-0 April 21-23); No. 18 Kentucky (4-2 April 28); No. 9 Tennessee (5-1 May 5)

Player to watch: Samantha Show, soph., P/DP (1.87 ERA, 17-6, 110 Ks, 51 BB, .293 BA, 10 2Bs, 6 HR, 36 RBIs)

Top hitter: Tori Vidales, jr., IF (.291 BA, 7 2Bs, 1 3Bs, 15 HRs, 41 RBIs)

Notes: The Aggies are the favorite in this regional, but it’s definitely not a given.  A&M played in a conference where all 13 teams qualified for the NCAA tournament and finished fourth behind No. 2 Florida, No. 8 Auburn and No. 10 Tennessee. Show is arguably the most versatile player in the regional and completely shut down Texas’ offense in A&M’s 9-3 win in the Lafayette regional a year ago. She pitched a complete game, giving up four hits and two earned runs. She also knocked in three runs with a double in the third inning.

Randi Rupp, right, and Texas State assistant coach Cat Osterman, a former Texas pitcher, walk to celebrate after the Bobcats defeated Texas 2-1 in  nine innings in San Marcos on April 5. COURTESY PHOTO

TEXAS STATE (41-15) 

Conference: Sun Belt (2nd)

Coach: Ricci Woodard 556-362-1, 17 years (556-362-1, 17 years at Texas State)

NCAA appearances (record): 7 (8-14)

Last 10 games: 6-4

Key wins: Texas (2-1 March 1, 2-1 (9) April 5 ); No. 17 Louisiana (2-1 (8) April 15);

Player to watch: Randi Rupp, jr., P (1.19 ERA, 27-9, 312 Ks, 51 BB, 21 CG, 14 SO)

Top hitter: Ariel Ortiz, jr., SS (.343 BA, 15 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 15 HRs, 47 RBIs)

Notes:  The Bobcats are the sleeper team, but really only has three quality wins to their résumé. They’ll go as far as Rupp’s arm takes them. She’s the best pitcher in the regional, and it’s not even close. But the difference maker will be Ortiz. Texas A&M beat Texas State 5-1, but the Bobcats stayed close. To get to the final, they’ll have to beat Texas twice, and likely A&M twice if the Bobcats hope to extend their season past this weekend. Don’t count them out.

Texas freshman Taylor Ellsworth will be a key player this weekend in College Station if the Longhorns hope to escape. CREDIT: Texas athletics

TEXAS (31-24) 

Conference: Big 12 (4th)

Coach: Connie Clark 807-349-3, 21 years (807-349-3, 21 years at Texas)

NCAA appearances (record): 17 (49-35)

Last 10 games: 6-4

Key wins:  No. 13 Baylor (2-1 May 5); No. 22 Missouri (10-3 Feb. 23); No. 13 Tennessee (4-2 Feb. 25)

Player to watch: Devon Tunning, sr., SS (.333 BA, 14 2Bs, 2 3Bs, 5 HRs, 23 RBIs)

Top hitter: Taylor Ellsworth, fr., C/DP (.407 BA, 5 2Bs, 3 HRs, 23 RBIs)

Notes:  It depends on which Texas team shows up that will dictate how far the Longhorns go. If it’s the team that won four straight games at the Mary Nutter Classic early in the season, Texas can win this regional. If it’s the one that lost its first ever series to Iowa State, then it’s going to be an early exit. Texas does, however, have the regional’s most experienced roster.

TEXAS SOUTHERN (25-19) 

Conference: SWAC (1st)

Coach: Worley Barker 269-301 11 years (269-301 11 years at Texas Southern)

NCAA appearances (record): 2 (0-4)

Last 10 games: 6-4

Key wins:  Alabama State (6-4 May 13, 3-2 May 11)

Player to watch: Jasmine Fulmore, jr., P (2.85 ERA, 11-4, 11 CG, 3 SO, 92 Ks, 26 BB)

Top hitter: Jocilynn Ellis, Jr. IF (.372 BA, 2 2Bs, 14 RBIs)

Notes:  The Tigers are making their third NCAA appearance since making their first one in 2014. Texas Southern is a long shot and its only game against the field was a 5-0 loss to Texas on April 19 in Austin. Don’t expect TSU to win a game against three quality programs in this regional.

Texas’ Randel Leahy is hitting .284 this season. She has also maintained a 4.0 GPA over her previous two semesters. CREDIT: Photo courtesy of Texas Athletics

ON DECK: Here’s the complete schedule for this weekend’s regional. All  Texas games will be broadcast on 105.3. TV is to be determined unless otherwise noted.

Friday: Game 1 —  2-Texas State vs. 3-Texas, 4 p.m., LHN; Game 2 — 1-Texas A&M vs. Texas Southern,  6:30 p.m., ESPN3

Saturday: Game 3 — Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 1:30 p.m.; Game 4 — Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 4 p.m.; Game 5 — Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, 6:30 p.m.

Sunday:  Game 7 — Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 1:30 p.m. ; Game 8 (if necessary) will follow Game 7.

Extra bases: Minnesota coach Jessica Allister was a bit candid in a Monday press conference after the No. 1-ranked Golden Gophers were not awarded one of the 16 seeds needed to host a regional. Instead, the top team in the country is headed to Tuscaloosa to play in a region with Alabama, Louisiana Tech and Albany.

It’s total nonsense that Minnesota, which beat Texas twice, isn’t hosting a regional. Allister said, “I think when you go back and look at our preseason schedule, we go to Texas and (beat) Texas twice, we go to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, sweep Notre Dame and N.C. State. Go to LSU, beat LSU on their home field. Go to Fresno (State), who’s a top-20 team last year, beat Fresno. Go up to Washington, go to Cal, go to Oregon State.

“I think it’s a tough thing to swallow when you hear that that schedule’s not good enough because I’m not quite sure what else we could have done in the preseason,” she added.

But that’s not even the worst part.

Should Minnesota win the Tuscaloosa region, the Golden Gophers will have to travel to overall-top seed Florida, which is the No. 2-ranked team in the country, for the super regional. That means the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country will not make it to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

The selection committee released a statement on Monday that Minnesota’s strength of schedule, which was ranked 114th, was one of the deciding factors of not giving Minnesota a seed. Allister obviously took issue with that, and rightfully so.

 Around the Horns:  Here’s a quick look at NCCA regionals that involve Big 12, and state schools:
  • Gainesville regional (Florida, Florida International, Oklahoma State, Florida A&M): The fact that the Cowgirls, the second-place team out of the Big 12, got placed in this region is an atrocity in itself. Florida is the favorite and will likely win it.
  • Waco regional (Baylor, Oregon State, James Madison, Kent State): Baylor didn’t get an easy draw, but will at least host. James Madison (50-6) is the 11th ranked team in the nation and poses a real threat to the Bears advancing to a super regional.
  • Norman regional (Oklahoma, Tulsa, Arkansas, North Dakota State); Oklahoma will win this, but the Sooners shouldn’t sleep on Arkansas. The key point to make, however, is that if Oklahoma advances out of this region and Auburn wins its reason as expected, the Sooners will be traveling to Auburn for the super regional.

That’s all the dust this week. As always, swing for the fences.

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